A new initiative that offers ethnically diverse high school students both practical life skills and a primer on the financial industry launches its inaugural cohort.
One chilly evening not too long ago, 41 high school students from across the country joined a video conference led by a group of Morgan Stanley Analysts and Associates. Dressed in sweats and T-shirts and sitting in their bedrooms and at kitchen tables, the kids had Zoomed in to glean expert knowledge in a lesson entitled Finance 101. Introductions kicked things off, followed by 20-minute breakout sessions, and then the group convened once more for hosts to field questions from eager participants.
“What’s the difference between Wealth Management and Investment Management?”
“Why should you diversify your portfolio?”
“How do the Sales and Trading desks work, exactly?”
That’s the kind of curiosity Morgan Stanley’s JumpStart program aims to satisfy. Over the course of the next eight weeks, the students would immerse themselves in a wide-ranging, stimulating curriculum, learning the difference between private equity and venture capital, how “shorting stocks” works, and what goes into successfully launching an initial public offering, using a Morgan Stanley client’s recent $3.5 billion IPO as an example. In addition, they would learn more practical skills, such as financial literacy and networking.
Created in partnership with LEAD (Lead, Education, and Development), a nonprofit that works with high-potential youth from diverse backgrounds, the JumpStart program helps young people from underrepresented communities develop their professional knowledge, find mentors and gain access to educational resources that might otherwise be out of reach.
The original concept came from Evan Damast, Managing Director of Global Capital Markets at Morgan Stanley. During the summer of 2020, Damast offered to help connect a client’s daughter with his colleagues to discuss a potential career in finance. After making the introductions, he began to wonder if there were a way the company could use its resources to also help young people who didn’t have the same organic network his client’s daughter had.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if we could take the talented Analysts and Associates who work for us and help them serve as mentors or role models to some young folks who are less plugged in to the Wall Street community, or are perhaps more diverse in their backgrounds than the average person on Wall Street,” Damast says.
Working together, LEAD and Morgan Stanley created a curriculum around a set of weekly themes calibrated for students specifically interested in a career in finance, as well as more general topics for those wanting to work in other fields. In addition to Finance 101, these included College and Career Readiness, Emotional Intelligence, Entrepreneurship, Networking in the Age of Technology and Navigating the Corporate Culture.
An overarching goal of the program is to help increase the general levels of financial literacy among diverse high school students and, hopefully, form the foundations for wealth creation and a new cycle of prosperity. According to Melissa James, Managing Director and Vice Chairman, Global Capital Markets, working to increase financial literacy across a more diverse population was a natural fit for Morgan Stanley.
“One of the issues we are trying to address is the disparity in wealth that exists within many underrepresented minority groups,” James says. “Increasing financial literacy among those groups and helping them become knowledgeable enough to build and create wealth is an important part of closing that gap.”
At the end of the program, students were asked to put everything they had learned into practice with a final group project. The students created business proposals for a deal to underwrite $25 billion in financing for a telecommunications giant, which was based on a real transaction that Morgan Stanley helped create. While structuring the deal, Morgan Stanley had made a point of seeking to include a diverse mix of larger and smaller investment banks, and the JumpStart students were asked to imagine themselves as those real-world executives pitching to take part in the deal.
Barbara Boakye, a Fixed Income Research Associate at Morgan Stanley who worked as a JumpStart facilitator, knows how transformative those kinds of experiences can be for young students. Boakye hadn’t thought she could have a career on Wall Street herself until she stumbled on a summer program in college dedicated to banking and finance.
“It literally changed my life,” she says. “I didn’t have any friends or family members in the financial industry, but through that summer program, we got to meet so many different people who were. They trained us, taught us how to have grit and drive, and how to be successful in the industry. That was the stepping stone for me.”
Damast hopes the JumpStart program can create stepping stones for as many students as possible. The program is currently scheduled to run at least through 2023 and will continue to expand with each new class.
In the meantime, the facilitators remain connected to this year’s scholars. “I was very excited to join the program, but I didn’t know what to expect, particularly given the virtual environment we had to work in during the pandemic,” says Samantha Mcilwrick, an Associate in the Institutional Equity Division. But she needn’t have worried. “I was extremely impressed by the scholars—so much so that I am still in touch with several of them, discussing everything from their college decisions to networking tips to my role in trading. I’m really looking forward to watching them progress through college and beyond.”
And while it’s possible that some of the students who participate could eventually end up at Morgan Stanley, the ultimate goal is about much more than recruiting. “The way we will define success, in my opinion, is by making a difference in the trajectory of each student in the program—and that’s not necessarily by joining Morgan Stanley,” Damast says. “That could mean getting into the college of their choice because we helped build their resume. It could mean helping to connect them to the sector of their dreams. Our clients are leaders in their sectors and many have expressed a desire to be connected to the program. Whatever it is that the students want to accomplish,” he says, “we are going to do our best to make a real difference.”