by Sarah Small
Recently, an ILLINOIS alumnus paid a visit to the Margolis Market Information Lab (MIL) where he taught a tutorial on the software program, Capital IQ, and explained to the group of students in attendance how he uses the program daily at his job with William Blair & Company. What made this presentation unique was that the alumnus, Nate Barajas ’10, graduated from ILLINOIS only three months earlier, in May 2010, but the skills he learned as student in the MIL had already proven their value.
When he was a student, Barajas was highly involved at the MIL and worked as a Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Lab Fellow under the guidance of associate lab director, Martin Maurer.
CME Lab Fellows are a select group of upperclassmen and graduate students proficient in the different software tools the lab provides. They not only take the initiative teaching classes of students how to use the different programs, but they also play a key role in designing these classes, said Maurer. Currently, the lab has 12 fellows.
Barajas’ class was the second group of fellows to graduate from the university, and judging by their success securing good jobs in the financial world, it appears the lab is fulfilling its purpose.
“Capital IQ was a great tool to know before starting a career,” Barajas said. “Martin and his team do a great job helping students learn how to use tools like Capital IQ; they will make experts out of the students, which can only benefit them when entering their careers”
With the lab fellows already in place and software classes being taught on a regular basis, Maurer said the next natural step is to connect with professors and encourage them to integrate the technology the lab offers into their curricula.
“We started looking at professors’ projects and we showed them how a particular software tool could be applied to those projects,” Maurer said. “Many professors have caught on and began making software tools part of the syllabus.”
Because attending classes taught by lab fellows depends strictly on the initiative of students, Maurer said it is important for the lab to be a part of coursework. This strategy has increased attendance and interest in the lab dramatically. It’s also a great way to better blend theory and practice.
“It’s important to train them in technology that they are likely to encounter when they leave here,” Maurer said. “We’re hoping it gives them a leg up.”
Real-world experience is one of the greatest draws to the lab for professors like Murillo Campello who brought his first class into the lab last spring and has already decided to extend the experience to both of the classes he teaches, and to make the visits more frequent.
“It gives them a sense of ‘This is what really, really happens,” Campello said. “I think the students feel they are really learning a tool that they are going to need.”
For his class on international finance, he takes advantage of the lab’s ability to run live data to simulate the experience of real-world trading for students and to show them how daily events affect trading.
Another professor, Heitor Almeida, teaches Mergers and Acquisitions, and has begun taking his students into the lab.
“The lab is very relevant to the type of research they will be doing in the real world,” Almeida said. “It gives the students access to the data sources. We couldn’t do things like this before; it’s really a great resource that allows the students to learn.”
Looking into the future, Almeida said he plans to connect his classroom even further and eventually would like all student research to be done in the lab.
Knowing the various software programs in the lab can also help students find jobs after graduation.
“When they go through the interview process, they already know the technology,” Maurer said. “The CME Fellows frequently mention to me that their involvement with the lab is a great talking point during interviews. They say that the recruiters are really impressed.”
Now that steps have been taken to provide students with several opportunities to learn and practice the lab’s software, Maurer said the next initiative of the lab is to reach out to recruiters and make them aware that students at ILLINOIS are learning these tools.
In many ways, having access to the programs in the lab add value to the students’ education, but most importantly, they gain real-world experience that will set them ahead of their peers in the professional world.
“I always felt that the goal of college was to attain the knowledge and skills that would make students better professionals,” Barajas said. “What I learned at the MIL directly applied to what I would be doing after graduation, and helped me feel much more confident when starting my career.”