Unlike many seniors, finance major Fahad Qayumi knows exactly what he'll be doing after he graduates this spring.
Qayumi has already accepted a full-time position as an investment banking analyst at Stifel Nicolaus Investment Bank in Baltimore, where he said he'll make a six-figure salary after bonuses.
Qayumi credits his ability to land the job to his experience with the Lemma Senbet Fund, a program designed by the Robert H. Smith School of Business to give senior finance majors experience managing a portfolio by allowing them to manage and invest $50,000 from the school's endowment fund.
"[The Senbet Fund] is all I talk about in interviews because it's basically what I'll be doing next year," said Qayumi.
He serves as the group's equity analyst for the health care sector, a job that involves keeping the group up-to-date on all important news concerning the health care industry and carefully researching stocks to make buy, hold or sell recommendations.
The business school modeled the Senbet Fund program after the Mayer Fund, a similar project for MBA students founded in 1993, said course instructor Sarah Kroncke.
Kroncke said Senbet Fund applicants go through a rigorous application and interview process designed to be similar to the hiring practices used by investment banks. The process includes two-on-one interviews and requires students to give three interviews over the course of one morning.
"It was very much like every other big investment banking interview I've been to," said Mark Mendelsohn, one of two portfolio managers. "The whole point is to see if you can handle the pressure and everything that comes with the fund. You need to test for people who can be reliable."
The group meets twice a week for two semesters to learn about the market, discuss the fund's performance and make buy, sell or hold decisions. This year's inaugural class includes 10 senior finance majors. Any money the group earns goes back to the business school.
"It gives you a whole new perspective on how to look at stocks and the market as a whole," said Mirag Vamja, the group's equity analyst for telecommunications. "In classrooms, we learn about the theory, but this gives us the opportunity to do what we'll be doing as a full-time job next year."
Fund manager Randy Doak said the most exciting part of working on the fund so far was making the group's first transactions on Oct. 27 and seeing its money go live.
"Just seeing how our performance changes on a weekly basis is really exciting," he said. "More generally, it's real money. That whole idea is exciting as well."
The group's goal is to match or outperform the S&P 500, a stock market index used by analysts to measure the overall strength of the economy. Mendelsohn said the fund was performing right in line with the index as of the group's meeting last Thursday.
Doak said he spends 15 to 20 hours doing fund work every week and that analysts often do more than 30 hours of work during weeks they are researching a stock.
"I treat it like it's my first job," he said. "The team is handling $50,000, so we treat it very seriously."
Qayumi isn't the only group member whose experience has helped him in interviews. Vamja said he's able to talk about the fund for 15 to 20 minutes in a typical interview, and Doak said his experience helps differentiate him from other job candidates.
"Our decisions have real-world financial implications," he said. "Not many senior finance majors around the country have that experience, so it's unique in comparison."
In January, the team will go to New York to network with investment companies and business school alumni. Kroncke said she is trying to get the group the opportunity to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, although the chances of that happening appear slim.
"I think it would be a great experience," Mendelsohn said. "Even if you're on top of the business world, it's very difficult to get that privilege, so to get it at such a young age would be awesome."
Contact reporter Andrew Schaefer at firstname.lastname@example.org.