University of Delaware sophomore Ashley Smith always knew she wanted to be a business major when she left Queens, New York for college. She credits that to her older sister who works in finance.
“She would take me to work with her sometimes and I got to see what she was doing,” Smith said of her sister, who is nine years older. “It’s very interesting that she could build financial models and she could forecast certain things, and it’s just like she can know how her company is projected to do in like six months to a year down the road. That’s what pushed me in this direction.”
Now Smith is well on her way to emulating her sister. Smith, a sophomore finance and financial planning and wealth management double major with a minor in business analytics at UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, was recently selected for the Girls Who Invest Summer Intensive Program.
Girls Who Invest (GWI) is a non-profit organization aimed at increasing the number of women in the investment management industry. The goal of the organization is to create a pipeline of women prepared to succeed in the male-dominated industry. Organizers have curated a tuition-free summer intensive program that includes educational training and a paid internship at a top asset management firm. So far they have taught more than 1,400 students, including 177 in 2021, which was their largest class ever.
“I’m very excited because it’s a great program,” said Smith. “I heard about it through my academic advisor at UD, Mr. Stephen Roberts.”
The summer program has two parts. The first part will begin in late May in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where participants will spend four weeks studying core finance and investment concepts at The University of Pennsylvania. They will also meet company executives from investment firms, participate in a speaker series with industry professionals, and work on a summer project to enhance their valuation skills. Room and board on campus are provided by the organization.
After the intensive educational period, each student will move on to their internships at one of more than 100 top investment firms in the U.S. and Canada, and work for six weeks until the program ends in August. Smith will learn about her internship placement in March, and she hopes it will be in New York, which was her first choice and where she can live at home.
SELECTION PROCESS INTO THE INTERNSHIP PROGRAM
In 2021 177 students participated in GWI. Participants must either be enrolled as sophomores at four-year universities or in the process of transferring to one. She completed an early application, which consisted of her writing two essays, answering a series of questions, creating a video about herself and securing recommendations.
“Regarding internships/extracurricular opportunities, from time to time I receive opportunities for students and I often pass them along,” said Roberts. “Girls Who Invest internship seemed like a great fit for Ashley. I wrote the recommendation and the rest is history.” Roberts said that Smith is organized and that he liked her work ethic.
Roberts was named Smith’s academic advisor her first year at UD as part of Lerner’s UDREAM (“U” Develop Resources for Excellence in Academic Management) Program. UDREAM students receive help setting short and long-term academic goals, enhancing study skills, accessing free tutoring services, managing time, developing organizational skills and getting referrals for other university programs.
“Ashley came to UD very focused and disciplined,” Roberts said. “I noticed this during our initial advising appointment; she took meticulous notes.”
Roberts said he recommended UDREAM to Smith to assist with building a sense of community within UD and Lerner, and he quickly learned that she was a high-achieving student.
She started first-year classes virtually during the pandemic and emailed and spoke with Roberts regularly via Zoom. He helped her stay on top of upcoming exams, class schedules, deadlines to turn in work, and overall readiness for school. She met other students through UDREAM and joined a study group for one of her economics classes. She finished her first year with a 3.7 GPA.
“I think the program overall was just great,” Smith said of UDREAM. “My freshmen year, I was virtual. I think it would have been very easy for me to get off track and just kind of spiral.”
Similar to the study groups she joined with UDREAM, she has met virtually with some of the other young women who were selected for GWI. They are from campuses across the country. She credits her first two years at Lerner for preparing her to work with them. The transition she’s making from the classroom into internships falls in line with Lerner Dean Bruce Weber’s idea that Lerner students should benefit from experience-based learning.
“I consistently recommend and encourage all my freshmen, sophomore, UDREAM students to pursue an experience-based learning opportunity as soon as possible,” Roberts said. He said he heavily leans on colleagues in Lerner’s Career Services for help with this. “The sooner you figure things out the better.”
From accounting to finance, faculty and staff have also impressed upon Smith to not only master academic principles, but also engage with others, network and make connections.
“I think those are really key things that I’ll have to take into this internship. Things that have been repeated throughout my time at Lerner have been helpful like always make sure that you make connections and just reach out,” she said.
INSPIRATION CAME FROM HOME
While her older sister did ignite the flame in her to pursue a career in financial services, Smith used her own observations about the world and mixed them with her own brand of altruism to define what her focus in the industry will be. Simply put she wants to help people instead of just sitting at a desk all day and looking at numbers on a spreadsheet.
“I would rather talk to a person and help them manage their money,” Smith said. “So you know, maybe somebody wants to put their kids through college or finally start a business that they’ve been dreaming about for years. I think Girls Who Invest has helped me realize that I’m really interested in the financial services side of the finance industry.”
When Smith begins her internship this summer, she’ll be thinking of her family: Her grandmother, who she lovingly refers to as Nana; her dad who works in sales, and her mother who works in human resources, and immigrated from Jamaica at 18 years old to build a life for herself.
Smith is the youngest of four siblings and said that she is ultra competitive and always wants to win. So, after a summer of working at a top asset management firm, coupled with what she’s learning at Lerner, she’s secure in knowing that she’ll come back knowing more than she knew before.