Feature Stories

Erika Taugher - Mechanical Engineering

Erika Taugher

Erika Taugher is a star soccer player at NJIT. After playing for just two years, she is poised to become the university’s all-time leading scorer. She’s also a stellar student. In her major, mechanical engineering, she has a near perfect grade-point average of 3.7.

It’s that combination --athlete and engineer – that has helped her get a coveted Wall Street internship. This summer, she’ll work as an intern for J.P. Morgan, a top investment bank in Manhattan. To get the internship, she competed against 500 students from colleges such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

“I was intimidated by all those Ivy League students,” said Erika, “but most of them were not engineering majors. And Wall Street firms want to hire engineers.”

Wall Street firms also want athletes. Erika is on her way to Wall Street in large part because of an assist from the Alumni Athlete Network. Founded by Ron Mitchell, a former captain of Harvard’s basketball team, the network helps usher college athletes onto Wall Street.

Over the years, Wall Street recruiters have found that college athletes possess characteristics that tend to make them ideal employees. Athletes tend to be competitive, driven and goal-oriented -- the characteristics one needs to succeed on Wall Street, a high-pressure environment where 80-hour weeks are the norm.

Mitchell’s network accepts 500 applications from college athletes. He then picks some 150 interview candidates, of whom 37 are placed in internships at firms like Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch.

What makes these internships so sought after and competitive, said Mitchell, is this: More than 80 percent of the interns are offered full-time jobs. The internship is the main avenue to a Wall Street career. So, these days, if you don’t come into Wall Street as an intern, your chances of working on the Street are dim, he said.

The most recent hiring trend on Wall Street, he added, is the influx of engineers into the financial-services industry. Engineers not only have quantitative skills but computing skills; they thus can handle the sophisticated software programs that power investment firms.

“What gave Erika an edge is her engineering background,” said Mitchell. “Wall Street is eager to hire engineers, whose analytical skills help investment firms make sound decisions. Erika also has a phenomenal personality, so when you combine her quantitative skills with her personality – that’s a winning combination on Wall Street.”

At NJIT, Erika winningly combines academics and athletics. She is a scholar in the Albert Dorman Honors College, and is vice president of finance for the Student Senate. She has a double major -- mechanical engineering and business management -- and though she is just a junior, she is already taking classes toward her MBA. The School of Management offers an accelerated degree program -- a BS/MBA – that helps students jumpstart their careers. She has worked as a teaching assistant in physics, tutoring students in the Educational Opportunity Program.

On the soccer field, Erika’s record is equally impressive. She is close to breaking university records for goals, assists and points. She has also played with the Portuguese National Women’s Soccer Team in the prestigious 2006 Algarve Cup.

And starting in May, when her internship begins, Erika will bring that competitive spirit to Wall Street. She is excited. She’ll be paid $1,200 a week, and live – all expenses paid – in a New York University dormitory. In one summer she’ll get a good sense of how an investment bank operates. She’ll work at J.P. Morgan’s Sales and Trading unit, where she’ll learn how capital flows from the world’s largest investors; follow the financial markets; attend weekly financial market meetings and meet regularly with senior managers.

The internship is ideal for Erika, since she wants to get her MBA and work in finance. She would like to one day work abroad, too. She has an international background. Her mother is Portuguese and her father is Canadian. She grew up in Oakville, Canada, just outside of Toronto, where in high school she excelled in academics and soccer. When she was a senior in high school, she visited a number of top universities in Canada and the U.S. But she decided to attend NJIT – her first choice. And now, after being chosen for the J.P. Morgan internship, she realizes it was the right choice. It was NJIT, she believes, that gave her the edge in getting the internship.

“NJIT is such a unique university,” Erika said, “and I’m just so happy to be here. The coaches and professors have helped me balance soccer and academics. The students here are so smart, and it’s such a supportive learning environment. NJIT sets you up to succeed: That’s why I got this internship.”

(by Robert Florida, University Web Services)


UPDATE

Sept. 17, 2007 – Erika excelled in her internship and, at summer’s end, her superiors at J.P. Morgan gave her an offer.  

So after she graduates this coming May, a job working as a financial analyst awaits her. The company gave her an open-ended contract, which means she needn’t sign it right away. She can take her time and consider the offer. To encourage her to sign, though, the offer includes a generous signing bonus.

But Erika’s in no rush to sign. For one, she is considering offers from other investment banks she visited during her internship – banks such as Goldman Sachs.   And she’s also considering staying on at NJIT and getting a master’s degree in business management. That would also allow her to play a fourth year of soccer.  Last year, her junior year, she was red-shirted – she was injured and sat the season out.  So after this season she could play a fourth year while she works on her master’s.  

“It’s a hard decision,” says Erika. “The internship was great but it was rough, demanding and intense.  There was a lot of screaming and shouting.  One banker, for example, lost her temper and slammed her fist onto a table, shattering her thousand-dollar designer bracelet.  I’m so happy to be back at NJIT, which, compared to Wall Street, is nurturing and comfortable, friendly and relaxed.”

Wall Street may not be nurturing, but her internship taught her a lot. She learned about derivatives, foreign exchanges, bonds and cash equities. She shadowed traders, and helped a corporate finance team assemble so-called “pitch books,” which tell corporations how to invest their money. Each Wednesday, she visited other top investment banks -- UBS, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs -- to see how they operated.  

J.P. Morgan also courted her.  She went to dozens of parties; took a cruise around Manhattan; went to Yankee games; had dinner at the United Nations and had a helicopter trip over Manhattan. And one day, a trader in her unit had a good trade and to celebrate bought lunch for all 100 summer interns. The bill was more than $600 dollars, which for him, Erika says, “was nothing.”

The hardest part of the internship, she adds, was mastering the banking jargon: equity, liquidity, swap to float versus swap to trade. But once she mastered that, her engineering background stood her in good stead.  “I had an edge because of my analytical skills,” she adds. “And I was respected because of my mechanical engineering background.”

And being an athlete helped her, too. Her summer days began at 4 a.m., when she’d repair to the gym; she needed to stay in shape for soccer season. She’d arrive at the office at 6:30 a.m. and oftentimes didn’t get home until midnight.

“It was an intense environment -- I was competing against 100 interns, most of them from Ivy League colleges -- and I had to be super competitive,” she recalls. “But I was used to that because soccer demands a similar intensity.” 

It’s mid-September now, and Erika is back on the soccer field, playing for NJIT. She is playing hard and enjoying her classes. Her goal for the year, she says, is to take some graduate-level business courses and to graduate with a high grade-point average. She will make a decision about her career soon. But right now, she’s just thrilled to be back. 

“I love NJIT,” she says, “I’m just happy to be here.”

(by Robert Florida, University Web Services)