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President's Blog: From the Heart

Return on Investment

By Eric F. Spina

Dick Davis ’72 began preaching the value of real-world experiences for undergraduate students ages before “experiential learning” became hot.

And what a payoff.

Two decades ago, the University launched the Center for Portfolio Management with $1 million for finance students to invest. In 2003, it was renamed the Richard P. and Susan P. Davis Center for Portfolio Management in recognition of the couple’s generosity — and their foresight.

Dick and Sue saw the return on investment for students engaged in high-quality hands-on learning experiences. After all, what better way to prepare for a job in the investment world than by managing real money? Research consistently shows that students learn best by doing — whether it’s working alongside researchers in labs or managing a $35 million slice of the University’s endowment.

Yes, $35 million — and growing. Crazy to let students invest University resources, you say? We don’t think so. The University will move an additional $5 million of our endowment into the student-led investment fund over the next five semesters.

This is a smart investment, a wise decision by our board of trustees — and a visionary move by Davis, the founder and former president of Flagship Financial Inc. who served as a trustee for 15 years, chairing the board’s investment committee from 2004-2008.

In the Davis Center — a high-tech interactive classroom that simulates a Wall Street investment firm — 60 students buy, sell, and trade stocks. Using a disciplined approach, they consistently outperform the S&P 500 benchmark and the vast majority of professional money managers — generating capital gains of $24 million since 2010. When they graduate, these young stock pickers are highly sought after in the world of finance, where they land jobs with BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and many other respected investment firms.

As Dick and Sue have always said, “It’s about the success of the students.”

That success has caught the eye of the Dayton Foundation, which worked with local philanthropists to create an additional $1.5 million pool of assets for the students to manage, starting this fall. The investment management fee will be used to support charitable efforts in the community in a partnership that’s believed to be among the first of its kind in the country.

When we marked the 20th anniversary of the center at a celebratory dinner on Nov. 2, I expressed the entire University’s gratitude to Dick and Sue for their leadership, constant care and attention to the student experience, and continued hands-on involvement in the center that proudly bears their name. By investing their time, talent, and treasure, they have worked with faculty to create an unparalleled experiential learning experience, a “crown jewel” among UD’s many hands-on learning programs. 

That’s not hyperbole. Today, the Flyer Investments Fund is the second largest student-managed investment portfolio in the country — and the largest managed exclusively by undergraduates.

As a mentor to students, Dick sets the bar high, encouraging them to take calculated risks, learn the value of teamwork — and grow, mature, and develop into young professionals companies are eager to hire. The highly relevant experience these students gain has translated into Wall Street internships, job offers with strong starting salaries and rapid career development for the Davis Center’s more than 600 alumni.

Looking back on his days as a student, Dick remembers UD as a place focused on service leadership, where “people smile and hold doors open for you.

“It was — and always is — about the students,” he said.

Today, he and Sue are opening doors to the world of finance for students. It’s an investment in their future.

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