Experience, experience, experience. It's the word that haunts college students every day.
In the professional world, recent graduates are often expected to have a long list of relevant experience, which can be difficult to gain during one’s college career. With the stress of attending classes, keeping up with schoolwork, working a part-time job and maintaining a social life, many students find it challenging to gain relevant experience during their college years. That reality spurred University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire accounting and finance lecturer Mark Alfuth to develop a way for students to gain some of that invaluable “real-world” experience.
"Wealth Management" a finance course, has been offered in the past at UW-Eau Claire, but Alfuth decided to change the traditional approach to the course during the 2017 Winterim session.
“The genesis of my idea for this course traces back to my years of previous business experience, including working with Ameriprise, then owned by American Express, in Minneapolis for 15 of those years,” Alfuth said. “I wanted to bring real-world experience to the classroom, and I thought the best way to do that would be to actually partner with a business.”
Alfuth’s unique class structure involved a partnership with Ameriprise, a 120-year-old financial planning services company based in Minneapolis. With individuals from Minneapolis and the local Ameriprise office, River Prairie Wealth Partners, a partnership was formed. Each day in the classroom began with a discussion by Alfuth, followed by a presentation to the class from an Ameriprise employee. The Ameriprise experts were given a topic to cover, and they used their expertise to discuss it with the class. Alfuth was available in the classroom throughout the entire session to interject when needed and prompt the students with questions and clarifications.
“This way, as the teacher, I am able to make sure that students are understanding everything being presented to them and I can clarify points that I thought were important,” Alfuth said.
The unique approach impressed students, who were exposed to a great deal of information during the intense Winterim session.
“This is one of the best classes I’ve taken,” Jon Lundeen, a senior finance major, said. “It really gives us a good back story to work since a lot of us are new to the profession. We are able to actually learn what the companies we are applying to actually do.”
Not only do the students hear from Ameriprise experts, but the experts also hear from the students. On the last day of the course, students had the opportunity to participate in a “Financial Planning Challenge,” in which they presented a comprehensive financial plan based on hypothetical cases. The River Prairie Wealth Partners team judged the competition.
Alfuth described the class as a “win-win-win” situation for UW-Eau Claire, Ameriprise and the community.
“With courses structured like this one, businesses win because they are able to use their expertise to give back along with gaining new, highly qualified recruits,” Alfuth said. “UW-Eau Claire students win because they gain new perspectives and get real experience. The community also wins because connections are made between businesses and the university, creating stronger bonds and educational outcomes.”
This unique course has not only highlighted the strengths of UW-Eau Claire's academics and Ameriprise's expertise, but it also brought a successful alum into the limelight. Adam Mohr, one of the featured Ameriprise experts during the three-week course, graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2002. Mohr was a finance major at UW-Eau Claire, and he works as a private wealth advisor for Ameriprise. When Alfuth presented his idea for the unique approach to the course, Mohr was excited about the opportunity.
“Ameriprise has huge ties to UW-Eau Claire, as we do a lot of recruiting here,” Mohr said. “I wanted to continue to be involved with UW-Eau Claire after I graduated, and this was a perfect opportunity. Things like this allow us to continue to be huge proponents of financial literacy while also displaying to students the appeal of wealth management for achieving a wide range of objectives.”
Dr. Raj Aroskar, chair of the accounting and finance department, said his team is committed to helping prepare students for success.
“All faculty in the department work very hard to continually offer exceptional classes that prepare students for success," Aroskar said. "Hence, when Mark wanted to try this approach with the course, it was a pleasure to connect him with our alumnus, recruiter and supporter Adam Mohr. The course exceeded my expectations of student learning and it helped show employers the great talent at UW-Eau Claire.”
Mohr said the partnership of pedagogy produced a dynamic approach to learning.
“This class is being taught by a football team,” Mohr said. “Mark is the quarterback and the rest of us are his team. It takes this kind of teamwork to offer students the insights they need. As they progress in their education and careers, these are the types of experiences that will be best for them.”
The partnership also brought in local experts from around the region, including a banker from United Bank, a property/casualty expert, a tax expert from Wipfli and an attorney who spoke about estate planning.
Another of the Ameriprise experts, Kate Noe, is also a Blugold. Noe graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2002 with a double major in communications and political science. Noe, along with Kurt Kern and Brian Soley, were integral to the course.
Featuring this type of high-end education at UW-Eau Claire further highlights the strengths of UW-Eau Claire, Alfuth said. By offering small class sizes, connections to business and opportunities for students to network, the university is working to change the game for education. Changes like restructuring classes can have huge impacts, and students are already recognizing these impacts, Alfuth said.
Mary Rodberg, a senior finance major, agreed.
“One of my biggest fears in college is that maybe my classes haven’t really offered me applicable learning,” Rodberg said. “However, through taking this class, my fears have diminished because we are given real knowledge about what our day-to-day careers could be like.”
Photo caption: Students in Mark Alfuth's "Wealth Management" course enjoyed a unique classroom experience during Winterim 2017 as guest instructors from Ameriprise worked with UW-Eau Claire faculty to offer students real-world examples and experience along the way.