It’s not uncommon for colleges to entrust a group of students with real money and budgetary decisions in the context of say, running a student newspaper or booking bands or speakers as a member of a campus programming board.

The financial and emotional stakes heighten when you talk about undergraduates running a student-managed stock fund.

Boler College undergraduates enroll in the team-taught Portfolio Management (FN 452) course. From there, they run the Dornam Investment Fund, which has a value of approximately $200,000.

Students are guided in their asset allocation and stock picking decisions by Assistant Professor of Finance Jisok Kang and his teaching partner, Executive-in-Residence Tony Aveni, in the Boler College Department of Economics and Finance.

Kang and Aveni divide the S&P 500 index into 12 sectors and assign students to research stocks in their sector and make buy, hold, or sell recommendations. “The goal is to give every sector/student group an equal chance to move the needle,” Aveni says.

As someone who served decades as a Chief Investment Officer of a $50 billion asset management firm, Aveni knows all too well the implications of stock research and recommendations.

He asks students to distinguish between positive statements (company performance fact) and normative statements (company performance opinion). “As soon as I hear words like, ‘I feel’ or ‘I believe’ I know the student has lost his or her grasp of cold, hard, empirical data.”

Aveni adds: “We live in a time when it’s easy to carry your emotions into the investment arena. I encourage my students to discern between a story stock — a company that touts a piece of good news — and a stock that has real underlying value.”

Questions of how young investors approach a dynamic — at times volatile — market have surfaced in the wake of new stock trading apps that make it easier and cheaper to jump into stock buying.

Trading platforms such as Robinhood come hard at young people with the pitch of no trading fees or account minimums. The company’s valuation topped $8 billion and caused Silicon Valley to buzz.

According to an article in the New York Times, Robinhood users traded nine times as many shares as E-Trade customers, and 40 times as many shares as Charles Schwab customers in the first three months of 2020. Risky options contract trading spiked on Robinhood too.

Noah Johnston, ’20, Corporate Finance Analyst at Huntington National Bank, says the team-taught approach for Portfolio Management (FN 452) gives Boler College finance students the best of both worlds. “Dr. Kang understands the theory behind markets and market behavior,” Johnston says. “Mr. Aveni knows what happens when humans have to put that theory to practice — he’s been in the room and he’s guided the decisions.”

When it comes time to make a pitch for buying, selling or holding a stock for the Dornam Investment Fund, Johnston acknowledges that the stakes are real. “We’re accountable to the teachers, and to each other,” he says. “We’re also aware that we’re accountable to the students who handed this responsibility down to us, and to the students who will one day follow.”