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Mentorship Equals Opportunity

Aug 26, 2021
5 min Read
Keith Olson, DBA’19, CFA & Ashley Nelson at a computer

Professor and Student Forge Mentorship Built on Mutual Interest in ESG Investing

“Creighton exists for students and learning.” 

“Creighton faculty members conduct research to enhance teaching, to contribute to the betterment of society and to discover new knowledge.”

These two statements are central to Creighton University’s mission – hardly groundbreaking given that Creighton is an institution of higher learning. But how they play out? That is what often distinguishes Creighton, a Catholic, Jesuit university dedicated to educating the whole person and producing graduates who will use their talents and education for the betterment of society, from its contemporaries.

Within Creighton’s Heider College of Business, class sizes are intentionally small, and courses are taught by professors with extensive industry and academic experience. It’s a highly personal education, with students forging academic relationships with professors that often last long after diplomas are conferred and first jobs are secured. 

Such a connection exists between Keith Olson, DBA’19, CFA, assistant professor of practice in the Department of Economics and Finance and finance and international business double major Ashley Nelson. And it all started very organically when Nelson introduced herself during Olson’s office hours after the first meeting of his investment analysis class. The course included a section on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investing, and this got Nelson’s attention.

Keith Olson, DBA’19, CFA

They discovered shared interests in the environmental impact of business, corporate sustainability practices and socially responsible investing. Out of this casual conversation grew a productive mentoring relationship, which includes collaboration on an academic paper, development of a new ESG investment class, an informal teaching assistant position, an ESG strategy presentation to a Fortune 500 company, and a redefining of Nelson’s ultimate career trajectory. 

“It’s so much fun to work with engaging students to see how far students can learn outside the classroom to pursue their dreams, their passions,” Olson says. “It’s phenomenal. It’s a joy teaching, mentoring, serving and inspiring students and a perfect example of the Heider Mindset Curriculum’s Collaborative Mindset.”

Currently, Olson, Nelson and John Wingender, PhD, professor of finance, are collaborating on a paper that studies stock performance of companies with high ESG scores during market volatility compared to companies with low ESG ratings. Nelson was involved in collecting and analyzing the data for the paper, and currently the three are in the writing phase. Once completed, Nelson will have a published article on her CV.

A Course in Socially Responsible Investing

When Lee Dunham, PhD, CFA, chair of the Department of Economics and Finance, asked Olson to teach a new ESG class, the latter immediately enlisted Nelson’s help in building the course from scratch. 

Olson was the logical choice to develop the new course. He was one of the early investors in the ESG space. In 2006, he created an EGS fund in Hong Kong while working at Bowen Capital Management and later managed an ESG fund within the Hong Kong-based environmental investment management company he co-founded in 2009. He educated himself on impact investing and all things environmental-hybrid and electric vehicles, alternative energy, water management, recycling, etc. – and created a structure of sustainable-focused regulation and financial reporting that investment analysts can incorporate to enhance traditional financial analysis. 

“Students need to leave the university setting knowing what ESG is,” Olson says. 

Thus, FIN 479, Impact and Socially Responsible Investing, was born. The fall semester’s inaugural class is small and comprised of junior and senior finance majors. But the ultimate goal is for it to develop into an interdisciplinary, cross-campus course. 

The class is built around research, debate, discussion and ESG-focused investment management. Each week students will present both sides of a topic in the ESG arena. Introductory presentations will tee up the week, after which students will conduct research and discuss findings in roundtable discussions and advance their ESG investment management project. The small class size and level of student engagement means “no one is going to get lost in the weeds,” says Nelson, who served as Olson’s curriculum assistant and co-creator of the course. 

Ashley Nelson

When Passions Align, Education Expands

HCB’s small class sizes means you cannot fly under the academic radar. Is that a bit daunting? Perhaps. But it’s also empowering. Nelson says it forces you to “learn how to communicate and collaborate with professors as soon as you have your first class, giving you more confidence to pursue mentorship in the future.”

“Without the leadership and inspiration from Dr. Olson, I would be so much less certain in myself and what I want to do professionally. Dr. O taught me how to combine my passions, for which I am forever grateful.” Nelson says.

But Nelson also took the initiative. Because she reached out to Olson that first day of class, she conducted advanced academic research and writing as an undergrad, helped design a new college course as a junior and discovered that her future career must include socially responsible, impact investing. 

Her success outside the classroom is directly proportional to the effort she has exerted. This summer she added to her list of accomplishments when, as a finance intern for General Mills, she took the initiative to create a presentation on possible ESG strategies the company could explore. 

Nelson has this bit of advice for underclassmen: “Go to every office hour! You may not realize that you have common interests with a professor. Establish a relationship. Let them get to know you because they may know a professor who could be more aligned with your passions and point you in the right direction.”

She is quick to acknowledge that her connection to Olson is just one of many such relationships that exist on campus, saying that “Creighton gives unmatched opportunities for mentorship” and that “many similar success stories” exist throughout the University.