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Innovative course enables IU Northwest business students to invest real money for authentic learning

Made possible by a generous gift by William and Leslie Nelson, a student-managed investment fund is growing, benefitting students

Wednesday Oct 18, 2017

On the final day of their course “Financial Business Decisions,” the students of Professor of Finance Bala Arshanapalli gathered outside a lecture hall in Indiana University Northwest’s School of Business and Economics, where their final presentation was minutes away.

Their “clients” — comprised of a group of local business people, faculty members and university leaders — were already filing in, past the impeccably dressed students reviewing their notes one last time.

Kimberly got things started by providing a summary of the state of the economy, including such factors as unemployment, the housing market, gross domestic product, personal savings rates, and more.

Jake followed her with an overview of the models the “firm” used to make their recommendations on what to invest in for the coming year. He explained that their overall strategy was to find stocks that are undervalued but promising.

One by one, each student approached the front of the room to discuss the stock option he or she chose to go into the group’s overall investment portfolio. Each explained the company’s product and factors that point to its presumed success.

Over the course of the semester, the students used state-of-the-art financial software (FACTSET) to do their stock research, while also learning how to conduct fundamental, technical, sectoral, and macroeconomic analysis.

Concluding the presentation, those in attendance asked some tough questions, giving the students a taste of what a real boardroom might be like. However, while the students may have been practicing a real-world presentation, the investment choices they described and the ultimate performance of those investments couldn’t be more real. Semester after semester, these students aren’t role-playing when it comes to managing their fund. It’s the real thing -- done with real money and generating real gains and losses.

Philanthropy in action

This innovative experience was made possible by a generous donation by William and Leslie Nelson. William Nelson, who has been teaching finance at IU Northwest for more than 35 years, said he wanted to help students in a way that someone else likely wouldn’t provide otherwise, so he and Leslie, also an educator, donated $50,000 to begin a student-managed investment fund at IU Northwest.

William, who graduated from IU Bloomington, said that his undergraduate education was only possible because of others’ generosity. This drives his philanthropic spirit today. The money that began the student-managed fund came from the personal investment portfolio of William’s mother, whom he referred to as possibly “IU Northwest’s oldest living alumni.”

The IU Foundation now manages the Nelson Family Fund, which has grown to more than $53,000 thanks to the careful analysis of business students over the past three years. Once the fund has grown enough to support student scholarships, half of the earnings are expected to be earmarked for student scholarships.

In addition to the fund, the Nelsons have endowed three scholarships, as well as made a host of other financial contributions to IU Northwest, that assist students in a variety of majors, including, but not limited to, business, nursing, theater, and education. They also established the IU Northwest Trading Floor, recently dedicated in their name as recognition for their philanthropy.

This course was a game changer

The Nelsons’ philanthropy is a prime example of how donors can make an impact on students’ higher education goals in innovative ways.

Zach Oehlman, (B.A., Business Administration and Financial Information Systems, 2009), said the opportunity to make real investments with someone else’s money was a real game-changer in his education. This hands-on experience really helped him make sense of what had previously been a mysterious notion to him.

What’s more, the experience gave him the confidence to trust his own education and instincts.

“It was the idea that no one really knew the value of a business that gave me a lot of ease and confidence once I become a valuation consultant,” Oehlman explained. “I knew all I had to do was look at all the given information and make a judgement call rather than try and find the ‘exact value’ everyone was looking for. This really helped reduce the stress and made things a lot more fun.”

Oehlman is now president of his own Northwest Indiana-based investing company, called No Limit Investing, a company that invests in other businesses and assets either through acquisition or start-ups.

“I am proud that I was able to start my own businesses and become an investor,” Oehlman said. “It was something I always dreamed of growing up and I am so grateful I get to realize my dream.”

William Nelson

IU Northwest photo by Erika Rose
William Nelson addresses IU Northwest faculty and staff at the School of Business and Economics Trading Floor. Nelson and his wife, Leslie (center), are longtime supporters of the school and known for their innovative philanthropy which has provided unique opportunities for student learning, like the trading floor and a student-managed investment fund.

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