Finance major charts success at TU

When talking about his reasons for choosing TU, Stephen McDonald says he liked that the university had an outstanding academic reputation and track record in preparing students for successful careers after graduation. When talking about his reason for visiting, he shares, “I came because of the reputation, but I stayed because of the people.” TU was his first college visit, and McDonald says the rest of the universities on his collegiate tour just didn’t measure up. He grew up in a small town in Arkansas and says, “I’ve always enjoyed meaningful relationships and being part of something greater than myself. And after my overnight visit, I felt like I was already a part of the campus.”

In high school, McDonald got a head start on the process of envisioning what his future career might look like: “I tried to start asking some core questions early. What things am I good at?  What kind of work would I want to do every day? What career allows me to make a difference?” After thoroughly enjoying his first high school economics class, finance and economics emerged as areas of interest. McDonald realized that he would get an opportunity to work with data and analytics in both fields, while also interacting with others. “There are so many doors that are open to you with a finance degree,” he says. However, his love of economics continues, which is why he chose to double major in finance and economics. “I’ve always been fascinated by markets and the way they are so interconnected, and I enjoy the way economics lets me explore and come to better understand those relationships.”

McDonald also added an emphasis in mathematics, but shared that wasn’t something he expected to study at TU. “I took an introductory calculus class my first semester that totally changed the way I viewed math. Finally focusing on why mathematical principles worked, and not just how they worked, changed the way I approached problem solving. I think that emphasis on a deeper understanding through theory is one of the biggest jumps students have the opportunity to make in collegiate mathematics.” He’s since continued taking more calculus and upper level math courses and even serves as a teaching assistant in several business calculus classes. “It’s a lot of fun to help students learn and more deeply master the material. The math courses I’ve taken here have been some of the most impactful classes I’ve had at TU, and I’ve fallen in love with numbers in a way that I never had before. Getting to share that passion with other students has been very meaningful.”

As a double major, McDonald spent the summer after his freshman year taking classes at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver so that he could complete additional coursework. “I could go there for about the same cost as most community colleges while also experiencing a different culture,” he says. “I was excited to push myself out of my comfort zone — that’s when real growth happens.”

Because he studied in Vancouver over the summer, McDonald didn’t have the opportunity to secure a finance internship. He also committed to a study abroad program that would extend into the summer of his sophomore year. “I didn’t want to go into my junior year without internship experience,” he says. So, McDonald started making calls, looking for an internship he could complete during the academic year before his spring semester abroad began. He calls the search process “a great lesson in perseverance.” Though he didn’t get a lot of no’s, he did have many employers explain that it just wasn’t the right time of year to bring on an intern.

He ultimately reached out to ArcBest, a freight and logistics solutions provider headquartered in Fort Smith, Arkansas. McDonald was hired there as an intern in the financial department, where he gained valuable corporate experience. “I handled a lot of the international shipment audits and managed trucking audits, which involved constant problem solving. It was a great experience, and I especially enjoyed working in the international sector.”

McDonald also took the initiative to seek a mentor who could provide insight into his career interests, which include asset management, investing and private equity. As luck would have it, Mike Colby (BSBA ’92), who oversees client relations at Bridgewater Associates, was also looking for a student to mentor. “What Mike does matches exactly what I want to do,” McDonald says. “Bridgewater is a top hedge fund, so I feel privileged that I get to visit regularly with an expert like him. Having successful alumni who care enough to invest in current students is invaluable.”

McDonald is currently studying economics in Austria at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. He fell in love with the city when he sang in a chorale festival there a couple of years ago and is excited to be back there studying in his field. “There’s so much economic history in the city; it’s a major birthplace of economic thought,” he explains. He also hopes to become more conversational in German, which he studied at TU, during his time abroad.

He balances academics with extracurricular activities like serving as vice president of the Student Economic Association, involvement in Reformed University Fellowship, serving as president of LaFortune Residence Hall his freshman year, and learning the art of dance as a member of TU’s Two-Stepping Club. “That’s probably the most off-the-wall thing I’ve done since I’ve been here,” he says. “I had never done any dancing before but was open to trying something new.” He went on to serve a term as vice president of the club during his freshman and sophomore years.

Returning to his reason for choosing TU, McDonald emphasizes the relationships he’s built here. “I love the fact that with every class I’ve taken, I can cultivate relationships with professors inside and outside of the classroom. They have a lot to share both personally and professionally.” He adds that, “TU is just a great place to find friends and new things to be a part of. The students here are very supportive of what you love and what you want to pursue. It’s been a great place to make friends, get out of my comfort zone and grow throughout the process.”