Preparing students for the realities of the financial world

How do you build a better student? Florida Atlantic University (FAU) knows the answer. Three years ago, they created a Trading Room which is as close to the real world of finance as possible.

The Trading Room was the brainchild of the Dean of the College of Business, Dr. Dennis Coates, who realized they needed a better way to prepare students for the realities of the marketplace. In Boca Raton, where the campus is located, there is a heavy finance-asset-portfolio management influence. To answer the needs of those sectors of the economy, businesses have been importing talent from the northeast. The Trading Room gives the College of Business the ability to cultivate in students the skills that are relevant to today's world. Firms in Boca Raton, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Jupiter will be able to recruit from a more savvy talent pool with real understanding of financial markets.

Rainford Knight, PhD (Finance) is the director of the Trading Room. He says it "bridges theory with practice. Students get a chance to learn about markets and how influential they are. They learn valuation, financial analysis, learn to understand a balance sheet, and how to form an opinion."

Originally the FAU Trading Room was the only room of its kind at any state university in Florida; now other schools have opened labs as well. The FAU Trading Room is 2,400 square feet and two stories, each with 25 seats. It is fully equipped like Wall Street, with 50 dual flat screen monitors, microprocessors, two giant flat panel screens, a live ticker, and feeds from Bloomberg and CNBC. They use top rated professional trading platforms - eSignal - and FTS, a financial trading system which simulates markets. Students have access to real time data so they can see market moves as they happen.

One student who aspires to be an investment banker says his class spends about three hours a week taking advantage of all that the lab offers. "I think the Trading Room itself can help us better prepare for jobs in the financial world," says Kiel Justin McAuley. "The room facilitates learning in a fast-paced environment and being able to access available information exactly when needed is important in today's business world." The hands-on nature of the classes in the Trading Room can teach more than a syllabus, adds McAuley, who believes that he's learned a few tricks that will be helpful in his career. "The one thing I would like to see the Trading Room used for would be some mock-trading seminars, where students can trade stocks and bonds and get a feel for the hectic trading environment."

The idea of the lab, says Professor Knight, is to produce students who can walk into the job and start to work. They understand markets and can do financial analysis. Eventually, he says, students will trade real money in a student managed fund. Students there learn by doing, so that when they graduate, economics, finance, and accounting majors can hit the ground running - right up the ladder of success.

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