An Investment in Their Future

One of the first times Kevin Fox met his students, he made a comment that’s a standard part of his vocabulary: “The futures are indicating a positive open to the market today.”

A bright but confused University of Saint Mary student replied, “What’s the market?”

Fox, who’s worked at some of the largest hedge funds in the world, quickly learned that he would need to start his lessons from the basics.

In the months that followed, Fox not only taught five USM students trading lingo, but he also helped them earn a 20 percent return on the university’s initial investment by trading financial securities.

Fox and his partner Harold Bradley, the former chief investment officer of the Kauffman Foundation, launched the Spires Trading Team in September 2021 to offer an applied learning experience for students interested in investing and trading options. They are supported by the USM Division of Business and Information Technologies, Assistant Professor Phil Watlington, who serves as the Spires Trading Team coach, and a third advisor Andrew Black.

The inaugural team offered hands-on training and full-ride scholarships to USM students Zachary Crumpacker, Cale Fields, Emily Nelson, Danny Reyes, and Aaron Schafer. This talented group of students brought varying backgrounds, experiences, and academic interests that ranged from history to sport management. As the team begins its second year in 2022-23, the advisors plan to grow the group to seven students.

“Each student brings a different strength,” Watlington said. “Those outside of finance tend to be just as good as those in finance. We have a team of smart folks who have been amazing and so resilient.”

Every week, the Trading Team meets to focus on investment theory, fund and risk management, and trading strategies. Students research the market and make daily recommendations on options trading, which the team advisors review, select, and execute. Team members also calculate profit and loss statements to ensure they are managing their risks properly.

Any profits support team activities and the students’ out-of-pocket education expenses, including tuition, on-campus housing, and university meal plans. The team results have also been strong enough to generate high returns during a time when the S&P 500 was down by about 11 percent. Now, the team is also seeking to grow the funds, which will allow for further expansion of the group.

The Trading Team’s hands-on approach to business and finance education is paying off in multiple ways. Reyes and Schafer, the team’s first alumni, landed competitive jobs upon their graduation in May 2022.

“The financial results are one thing, but really the best part of it was Danny and Aaron getting such good jobs in a market they hadn’t really contemplated before,” Fox said. “They both had a change in trajectory. Your family situation, income level, race, and other factors can put you on a certain trajectory. I’m trying to bump that trajectory just a little bit to move it in a different direction.”

Equity Trader | Kornitzer Capital Management

Schafer would be the first to admit that he didn’t know much about the financial markets when he applied to be part of the first Spires Trading Team.

He was majoring in mathematics, but his professor convinced Schafer that he was qualified and that the Trading Team would be a good learning experience.

During the interview process, Schafer stood out for his analytical thinking and his hobbies. He enjoys climbing 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado, also known as 14ers. While the discipline needed for this sport isn’t directly applicable to the skillsets of a successful trader, Fox and Bradley saw something special in Schafer.

“You don’t have to be a business major to be on the team,” Fox said. “I always ask in the interview what they are good at. They could say, ‘I’m a good cello player.’ That’s all I’m looking for is a unique skill.”

When Schafer received a job offer a few months later, the Trading Team advisors were thrilled.

During the school year, Schafer presented on the Trading Team’s performance to the University of Saint Mary Finance Committee. There, he made a connection at Kornitzer Capital Management. The Kornitzer team also saw something special in Schafer and offered him an equity trader position at their firm, which is consistently ranked by the Kansas City Business Journal as one of the top 10 fee-based investment advisors under local advisement or management.

“If all of these young people who have been in the program have opportunities to even be considered for jobs like that, those are potentially life-changing opportunities,” Bradley said. “That’s not necessarily our goal, but to have that happen was very exciting because his trajectory is changing.”

Schafer acknowledges that he experienced information overload during his first few weeks on the team. But eventually, something clicked for the 2022 graduate, giving him foundational knowledge of how the financial markets worked and setting him up for his first professional experience.

“I was very appreciative of the scholarship,” said Schafer, who is now studying for the Chartered Financial Analyst exam. “That was very nice, and I was very appreciative that the university allowed this opportunity. I’m also grateful for the experience that it gave me. There is a saying that my math professors used to say, and it’s, ‘If I can see further, it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ I think that applies pretty well to what Kevin and Harold taught us.”

Fund Accountant | State Street Corporation

Reyes traces his desire to be a trader back to high school. With limited funds at the time, Reyes started with Robinhood, a commission-free stock trading and investing app.

While trading was always on his mind, Reyes spent the majority of his undergraduate days focused on his accounting degree, being a captain of the men’s soccer team, and navigating the college experience as a first-generation student. As his senior year approached, Reyes assumed he would return to Houston to help with the family business when
he graduated.

Today, thanks in part to his Trading Team experience, he is fulfilling a dream by working as a fund accountant at State Street Corporation in Kansas City.

“I like that it keeps me focused all the time on what is going on in the market,” Reyes said. “I’ve always had a passion for trading securities. It is something that I look forward to every day.”

Reyes’s reaction to his new job is one of the big reasons Fox initially pitched his idea for the Trading Team to the USM Finance Committee. Before launching the team, Fox served on various USM committees and donated to scholarship funds for about a decade. He initially considered working with interns, but he paused to look at the bigger picture. He wanted to give back in new ways and create pathways for students to excel.

“This was a way to get more out of it than giving somebody some scholarship money,” Fox said. “This way, they are learning a new area and trying something that they never envisioned before.”

While many students entered the program with limited knowledge, the advisors are impressed by the students’ growth. Along the way, team members gained greater attention to detail, critical and analytical thinking skills, and an appreciation for the importance of accuracy.

“In a month, they went from knowing basically nothing about trading to picking stocks that we
sell options on,” Watlington said. “It’s been an amazing ride. I’m just amazed at how quickly they have learned.”

In addition to learning strategies, tools, and theories, Reyes credits the discipline he learned on the Trading Team with the success he’s found in
his career.

“Being able to put this on our resume sets us apart from other students,” Reyes said. “This is something that helped me out a lot because I believe it is one of the reasons why I got the job.”

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