Mastering the Fundamentals of Finance at NJIT

Bernadette Strout, a financial expert, co-taught the Financial Literacy Program -- a five week summer class -- with Professor Michael Ehrlich

Ever since she was five, Melissa Rocha, a high school junior, wanted to be a doctor. The script of her life was settled in her mind: She would study hard, get into a good college and study pre-med.  Afterwards, she’d get into a top medical school such as Johns Hopkins.

But this summer, she enrolled in the Financial Literacy Program at NJIT, a five-week long class that teaches students the fundamentals of finance. The class changed her life.

“When I was a little girl I decided I’d be a doctor,” Melissa said. “The Financial Literary program, however, has made me think twice about what I want to do with my future.  Now, I am actually considering majoring in finance at NJIT. That’s how much I loved this class.”

At first, Melissa Rocha was not thrilled about spending four weeks of her summer studying finance at NJIT. She signed up for the class but had reservations.

“Whenever I thought of finance and stocks,” said Melissa, who attends St. Vincent Academy in Newark, “the only words that popped into my head were boring and hard.”

Now, when she listens to the news and hears financial terms bandied about -- dividends, ratios and NASDAQ -- her ears prick up.  Taking the Financial Literacy class made what once seemed boring interesting.  And it was the way the class was taught that grabbed her attention, she said.   

The class was co-taught by Michael Ehrlich, a professor of finance at NJIT’s School of Management, and Bernadette Strout, a successful certified financial planner who sits on the School’s Board of Advisors.

Before arriving at NJIT, Ehrlich had a prominent career on Wall Street, working at Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb and Salomon Brothers. An expert in start-up companies, Ehrlich also founded the New Jersey Innovation Acceleration Center at NJIT. The center trains entrepreneurs from across New Jersey to develop financial models that will attract investors.  He also started a club for NJIT students -- the Innovation Acceleration Club -- that teaches them how to start their own businesses.  Some of Ehrlich’s management students, such as Erika Taugher, have gone onto successful careers on Wall Street.

Given Strout and Ehrlich’s backgrounds, it’s unsurprising that Melissa was impressed by their teaching. 

“The way Professor Ehrlich and Ms. Strout taught the class,” Melissa said, “made potentially boring information interesting.  Their lectures and power point presentations helped us understand investments and I feel when I’m older I’ll analyze companies to see whether they’d be good investments. And Ms. Strout's lectures on personal finance will also be helpful in the future because she taught us the importance of creating a budget and saving money.”

NJIT started the financial literacy program in 1998 to give students like Melissa – students from the Newark and nearby towns -- an introduction to financial investment.  The program includes lectures, computer labs and field trips to Wall Street as well as team projects.  For the projects, the students divide into teams and analyze prominent public companies. Using sophisticated computer terminals, such as a Bloomberg Terminal, students use the Internet to gather and assess financial information.

On the last day of the class, the teams present their company reports to NJIT professors, staff and corporate leaders.  In the end, the Financial Literacy Program not only helped the students master the fundamentals of finance, but also, at least in the case of Melissa, changed her life.

 (By Robert Florida, University Web Services)