Jena Michals, Master’s in Finance ’10
Jena Michels hadn’t planned to enter grad school right after completing her undergrad degree, but in May 2009, the job market was pretty grim. “The odds were definitely not in my favor, and I was not willing to settle on a job that I wasn’t passionate about,” she says.
She found out about a graduate assistant position offered through the University of Arizona’s Office of Investments. “The program is designed to allow a student to complete a master’s in finance (MMF) while gaining valuable work experience with the UA Endowment,” Michels explains. “Not only was it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it couldn’t have come at a better time. I jumped on the chance, and before I knew it I was in graduate school.”
Michels credits the position with the UA Endowment for offering vital perspective on her academic program. “Originally, I thought that the master’s program would help me succeed as a graduate assistant,” she says. “But it has definitely been the other way around. When you actually get to witness investment decisions and the logic behind them, learning the material in an academic setting becomes much easier.” She credits her supervisor at the Office of Investments, director of investments Peter Homstad, with fostering an environment in which she can learn without boundaries or fear of making mistakes.
Grad school, she says, has been a big change from her undergraduate program. “The material has some overlap, but it goes more in-depth than anything I had in my undergraduate degree,” Michels says. “As an undergrad, you get very comfortable with the lecture–study–test routine. However, this doesn’t translate very well to the real world. Graduate school emphasizes a deeper understanding of the material.”
During her time at Eller, Michels has taken classes that have influenced the way she thinks about the field of finance, including the applied investment management class, taught by adjunct lecturer Don Seeley. “In this class, students help manage a portfolio of real money for the UA Foundation,” Michels says. “Don Seeley approaches finance with passion and a critical eye that I think is unique. He helped me to develop a rational thinking process that is almost impossible to teach in a classroom setting. Whenever we get bogged down or off-track, he always brings us back to reality.”
In the master’s program, Michels says she’s enjoyed the strong community of students. “It’s a smaller program than undergrad,” she says, “and we all have the same classes together. No student has the same background, which makes the program much more dynamic. We complement each others’ strengths and weaknesses. I always know that when I don’t understand something, someone else in my class does, and he or she is always willing to help. There is no doubt that I have built a network of colleagues and friends that I anticipate staying in touch with indefinitely.”
Michels will complete the program in August 2010, and says she’s focused on continuing to learn and absorb as much information as possible. “The field of finance can take someone in so many different directions,” she says. “Ideally, I would like to get into an analyst program somewhere. But at this point I’m just keeping my fingers crossed!”