DePaul business major Olivia Perez only started college in September, but she already has a solid base of knowledge about the finance industry, thanks to her participation in summer finance programs hosted by the nonprofit Greenwood Project and DePaul.
Two summers ago, a guidance counselor at her high school, De La Salle Institute on the Chicago’s South Side, suggested that Perez enroll in the Greenwood Project’s Summer High School FinTech Institute. The program teaches computer coding, financial literacy and career skills to students of color. “I was initially planning to major in technology, specifically computer science, but I also had an interest in finance,” Perez says. She didn’t seriously consider finance as a career path, however, because she knew little about it and didn’t know anyone working in this field.
Her involvement in the Greenwood Project changed that. “I found the bridge that connected technology and finance,” she says. “It was a whole new world for me. I didn’t have anyone in my family in finance. So, it was nice be able to connect with other people who, like me, were interested in finance.”
After graduating high school last spring, Perez applied to the Driehaus College of Business and enrolled in a second Greenwood Project summer program, this time a 10-week finance boot camp at DePaul’s business college. Taught by DePaul finance professors, alumni and industry leaders, the program covered the fundamentals of finance and investing, as well as skills for communicating and presenting yourself effectively in a business setting.
Perez appreciated the program’s holistic approach and found a presentation by DePaul finance instructor Joe Silich (BUS ’92), head of The Silich Group at Morgan Stanley, particularly meaningful. “He mentioned that in order to be successful, you have to immerse yourself in the culture of finance professionals. You have to dress the part, and you have to come in with the right mindset.”
Perez says the program made her more confident about her decision to come to DePaul this fall and major in finance. “The professors gave us a glimpse of the curriculum at DePaul and were really approachable,” she says. “They made the subject easy for us to comprehend and made us feel comfortable to ask questions.” Perez plans to enroll in the Greenwood Project-DePaul program for college students next summer, which includes summer internships with financial service firms.
Creating more opportunities for underrepresented students to enter finance benefits both students and the industry, Perez observes.
“I feel that diversity is incredibly important,” she says. “The more diversity of thought and voices that an industry allows, the more creativity there is. For example, my being Hispanic and a woman—those are both groups that are not really well-represented in finance. And so I want to be a voice and to inspire others as well.”
By Robin Florzak