First endowed Oswego faculty member champions hands-on learning

As the first endowed faculty member at SUNY Oswego, Mary Rodgers, the Marcia Belmar Willock Professor of Finance, brings three decades of Wall Street experience, an interest in financial history and dedication to opportunities for students.

As an analyst for Merrill Lynch, Rodgers once handled $400 million in portfolios. Now she joins fellow School of Business faculty in investing energies in students’ futures.

Mary Rodgers with graduate student Farida Husain.Her “Corporate Finance” classes stress knowledge, life skills and teamwork. “I’m trying to enrich the student experience, showing how accounting, marketing and management majors work together to tell the complete story in financial terms of a given company,” she said, an interdisciplinary approach Wall Street and other investment firms use. Like financial analysts, students will have to be able to write, explain and present their plans in ways that resonate with clients, she added.

Rodgers plans to take students to the Nov. 26 New York Society of Security Analysts program in New York City, where Robert J. Schiller, the Yale economist who foresaw the real estate implosion and was co-creator of the Case-Shilling housing index, will speak. Students attending can network with her contacts from Merrill Lynch, the New York Stock Exchange and Standard & Poor’s in what she hopes to become the first of many such opportunities.

She offers a hands-on independent study course on bond markets where a student can become a “fantasy fund manager,” not unlike those managing fantasy football or baseball teams, picking assets and following how they perform.

Rodgers also wants to promote student marketability by helping embed the Chartered Financial Analyst curriculum in the finance curriculum to help graduates gain CFA accreditation. Rodgers said she is enjoying working with “outstanding, engaged colleagues” in the School of Business to help Oswego students create promising careers.

Financial history

As part of the finance team for Inland Steel, Rodgers first worked with Merrill Lynch to underwrite installation of scrubbers in steel mill smokestacks to comply with increased environmental regulations in the 1970s. The connection clicked, and Rodgers joined Merrill Lynch in 1981, beginning 30 years with the investment giant.

Rodgers completed her doctorate through Pace University on the history of financial crises. She had access to J. Pierpont Morgan’s personal papers, “reading all his personal investment banking transactions, about 2,000 of them, which was fascinating,” she said.

Rodgers said the country has financial panics at least every 15 years, and she saw four national financial crises while at Merrill Lynch. She researches financial panics because “it’s amazing how little we seem to know about them,” especially how to prevent them, said Rodgers, who also teaches “Crises in Financial Institutions and Markets.”

Meeting Thomas Schneider, the CEO of Oswego-based Pathfinder Bank, triggered what will be an immense and important local financial history research project, she said. Pathfinder has opened its records, dating back more than 150 years for “an amazing treasure hunt” for interested student researchers, Rodgers said.

“How did Pathfinder Bank and its antecedent banks survive all these financial panics that came and went and stay in business while others did not?” she said. “Hopefully we can use this and other ways to solidify community connections with businesses like Pathfinder Bank and to give students great opportunities.”

Generous benefactor

Rodgers’ position at Oswego is named in honor of a 1950 Oswego alumna who made millions as a self-educated investor and chose to pay it forward to her alma mater with a $1 million donation to establish the first endowed professorship at Oswego. Willock’s donation is the largest gift the college has received to date, outside of bequests.
“I am so delighted,” Willock said of Rodgers in Oswego’s alumni magazine. “She has done a great deal and her experience sounds tremendous.”
Because of the focus she places on hands-on learning, Rodgers sees a real connection between Willock’s work and hers.

“Marcia Belmar Willock believes in learning by doing,” Rodgers said. “She made herself successful through the investment clubs to which she belonged. She enhanced her book learning with learning by immersion.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Financial experience—Mary Rodgers, the college’s new Marcia Belmar Willock Professor of Finance, discusses an independent-study course with graduate student Farida Husain. Rodgers brings 30 years of Wall Street experience, an interest in financial history and an emphasis on hands-on learning to Oswego’s first faculty position supported by an alumni gift.

(Posted: Sep 13, 2012)

Tags: thomas schneider, suny oswego, school of business, professor of finance, pathfinder bank, merrill lynch, mary rodgers, marcia belmar willock, inland steel, hands-on learning