Cal Poly Finance Team Advances in Global Competition with Analysis of PayPal Stock Outlook

A detailed analysis of PayPal’s stock outlook, with a recommendation to sell, helped a team of Cal Poly students surpass hundreds of others recently in the CFA Institute Research Challenge.

Competing with over 900 schools from North, Central and South America, the Cal Poly team was just one of 17 that advanced to the Americas’ semifinals this month, having won the local and subregional stages. The competition includes over 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students from universities in more than 91 countries. Students are tested on their analytical, valuation, report writing and presentation skills.

For the competition, students were assigned to perform an analysis of PayPal, a San Jose-based company providing financial transaction processing services. The team spent five months compiling a report — which included information about PayPal’s business model, an industry overview, risks and more – before making a recommendation to sell PayPal stock, projecting its value would decrease by over 12 percent within a year.

“Developing this report may be one of the hardest and most extensive projects we have ever worked on,” said team captain Alexandra Joelson, of San Diego. “We were confined to 10 core pages and 10 appendix pages, and though that may seem like a lot, we had such an abundant amount of research and analysis, it was difficult to keep it to this page limit.”

The team also included Cameron Wong and Dominic Juliano, both from San Francisco; Samuel Paik, of Orinda, CA; and Walnut Creek, CA, resident Shingo O’Flaherty.

“Early on, our team members identified each individual’s skills and talents,” said faculty advisor Cyrus Ramezani, a finance professor in the Orfalea College of Business. “They then divided the work and specialized to be most effective. This is the closest our students can get to a real world experience. It is also one of the best examples of our Learn by Doing mantra at the Orfalea College of Business.”

Cal Poly alumnus Scott B. Kirk (Business Administration, Financial Management, ’05) also served as team advisor.

Once tasks were assigned, the team studied PayPal, its market and revenue drivers, then worked as a team to develop a detailed financial model, write a comprehensive report, and prepare their presentations.

“This financial model helped us find key conclusions that could drive our sell story,” Joelson said.

That story, Ramezani said, was delivered in a well-written and thoroughly developed report – with extensive use of graphs and charts — that could be used by portfolio managers to make investment decisions.

“Students also created a comprehensive slide deck and made multiple presentations to industry professionals (the judges),” he said. “They are expected to clearly present and defend their analysis and investment recommendation.”

According to their research, PayPal’s competitors include Apple Pay, Google Pay and Zelle, and its current demographic is largely consumers between 35 and 55. While the company benefited from the shift to online shopping, particularly during the pandemic, encroachment by powerful competitors, a rise in interest rates and inflation, plus geopolitical risk, contribute to a questionable stock future, the team concluded.

Because the project lasted several months, that analysis was subject to change. The report even includes reference to the recent war in Ukraine, which began during the project.

“It was extremely difficult to update our presentation due to the volatility of the market and the constant fluctuation in PayPal news,” Joelson said. “The team set up a plan of exactly what we wanted to update to ensure we had the most up-to-date and accurate presentation possible.”

After winning first place at the local competition in San Francisco (16 teams), the team also advanced from the Western U.S. round to the Americas semifinals. The team did not advance to the Americas finals, which take place April 28.

“The competition is extremely competitive at the semifinal stage, and we may have been eliminated by a fraction of a point,” Ramezani said. “Still, this is the first time our students have reached this level and we are proud of the work our team has completed.”

Joelson credited Ramezani for helping her develop a new sense of passion for finance.

“This project gave me a perspective into what the ‘real finance world’ is like, and I now feel prepared to enter the workforce with confidence,” she said.

The 2021 Orfalea College of Business Faculty and Staff Awards

Katya Vasilaky with students

The Orfalea College of Business Faculty and Staff awards are given at the end of each academic year in several categories. The Distinguished Faculty of the Year and Outstanding Faculty awards are determined by student feedback via a survey. The Emeritus Faculty Award is determined through nominations by each department’s area, with the dean’s team providing deliberations and a final decision. The Staff Member of the Year Award is based on a college-wide survey. 

A warm congratulations to all the professors within the Orfalea College of Business who are making an impact. Please find the results below.

Distinguished Faculty of the Year Award

Pratish Patel, Associate Professor of Finance

Emeritus Faculty Award

Katya Vasilaky, Assistant Professor of Economics

Outstanding Undergraduate Faculty Awards

Accounting: Tad Miller

Economics: Jackie Doremus

Finance and Real Estate: Pratish Patel

Industrial Technology: Ahmed Deif

Packaging: Joongmin Shin and Koushik Saha

Entrepreneurship: Jose Huitron

Management: Hong Hoang

Information Systems: Jim Burleson and Leida Chen

Marketing: John Marinovich

Outstanding Graduate Faculty Awards

Masters of Business Administration: Bruce Greenbaum

Masters of Business Analytics: Sanjiv Jaggia

Masters of Quantitative Economics: Carlos Flores

Masters of Accounting: SiSi Pouraghabagher

Masters of Taxation: David Chamberlain

Masters of Packaging Value Chain: Adam Armstrong

Outstanding Staff Award

The Orfalea College of Business Information Technology Team: Joe Emenaker, Director of Computing Resources and Labs; Teresa Cameron, Instructional Designer; Frank Gonzales, Academic Technology and Media Communications Supervisor

Student Essay: Technology Sales and Consulting

The author (right) with HiView Marketing Specialist Kelly Carroll (Cal Poly COMS ’20) and Director of Sales Miles Hischier at the SLO HotHouse.

Internships, immersive projects, and getting the most from my Cal Poly education, inside and outside the classroom.

By Sami Katwan

When I first toured Cal Poly in the Spring of 2018, I knew it was the right university for me. This was not only because of the beautiful campus or the incredible value for business students, but also because of the Orfalea College of Business (OCOB) Student Ambassadors, whose passion and on-campus involvement were a testament to the unique opportunities and skills afforded to Cal Poly students. They were always smiling and shared stories with my tour group about their exciting experiences on and off campus. Their enthusiasm as they spoke about their hands-on experiences in the classroom, with internships, and in on-campus organizations solidified Cal Poly as my top choice.

Now as a junior, I can safely say that my high expectations for Cal Poly were exceeded. My Business Administration, Information Systems, and Sales courses so far have culminated in what I believe to be an extraordinarily valuable education. From learning practical theories to serving real-life clients to engaging directly with guest speakers to working in my desired career area, Cal Poly’s “Learn by Doing” mantra is not just for show—it’s a core philosophy that guides how professors structure their course material to be as valuable and engaging as possible.

For me, one highlight of Learn by Doing came during  a recent group project in System Analysis and Design (BUS 394). Three peers and I worked together to find and solve a problem for a real local business, Taqueria la Parilla. Through several in-depth interviews with the business’s management, we discovered the opportunity to increase revenue and profit while saving time for their busy staff. Using the concepts we learned in class, we analyzed and designed a solution that would allow customers to place online orders through a website. We presented it as an option to the business owner, who continues to explore online ordering solutions. Designing this system was an intensive process. However, as someone interested in sales, consulting, and problem-solving in general, I found this experience to be invaluable.

My Business Administration, Information Systems, and Sales courses so far have culminated in what I believe to be an extraordinarily valuable education. From learning practical theories to serving real-life clients to engaging directly with guest speakers to working in my desired career area, Cal Poly’s “Learn by Doing” mantra is not just for show—it’s a core philosophy that guides how professors structure their course material to be as valuable and engaging as possible.

The benefits of being a Cal Poly student are not limited to the fantastic on-campus opportunities or in-class projects, however. We also have access to Handshake, which gives us the opportunity to connect with companies specifically seeking out Cal Poly students. I cannot recommend this platform enough. It’s what connected me to my most valuable off-campus career development pursuit yet—my internship as a Sales Development Representative for HiView Solutions, a SLO-based B2B technical consulting firm focused around Google Cloud products.

I have been working with HiView since September 2019 and all the while have been able to apply what I learn in the classroom to my work in this position, including prospecting, qualifying leads, and working with HiView’s partners at Google to initiate outbounding campaigns. For example, in Technology-Based Professional Selling (BUS 348) I learned how to effectively use Salesforce, Salesloft, LinkedIn, and other key tools for sales. Another especially valuable course was Professional Selling Skills (BUS 347), in which we frequently simulated sales calls that helped me develop key skills such as discovery, needs identification, and objection handling.

In addition to my day-to-day SDR tasks, I have recorded instructional videos for HiView’s YouTube channel, helped its  Marketing team create email campaigns, assisted with project delivery, and more. I highly recommend interning for small companies like HiView because it enables you to gain valuable experiences in many areas of the business, while making a measurable difference for the company as a whole.

To get even more out of your Cal Poly education, I strongly recommend pursuing some of the unique extracurricular opportunities that we have as Cal Poly students. For me, this has included joining the Cal Poly National Collegiate Sales Competition (NCSC) team, serving as President of our university’s Zeta Beta Tau fraternity chapter, strategizing on the Student Library Advisory Council (SLAC), and most recently, becoming a Student Ambassador for the Orfalea College of  Business—just like those students who inspired me several years ago. Whatever your personal or professional interests, I guarantee that there are organizations on campus that will resonate with you, making your Cal Poly experience that much more fulfilling both personally and professionally.Altogether, my experiences so far at Cal Poly have helped me better understand my career goals.  

I am hoping for a great final academic year for my peers in the Class of 2022 in the wake of the current unusual circumstances. I’m so thankful for my family, friends, professors, and coworkers for their invaluable support and adaptability throughout the past few years. I am also so grateful to be gaining a hands-on education that will prepare me to create a positive impact as a proud Cal Poly alumnus.

Sami Katwan is a 3rd-year Business Administration student concentrating in Information Systems with a minor in Sales. He is from Mountain View, CA and enjoys watching sports and spending time outdoors. After graduating in June of 2022, he plans to pursue a career in Technology Sales/Consulting.

The Orfalea College of Business 2021 Graduating Senior Recognition Awards

Headshot of Tia Bentivegna

Academic Excellence

Tia Bentivegna

This award is often granted to students with the highest GPA in the college. Participation in special projects or research that exemplifies academic excellence might also be considered. Tia Bentivegna (Business Administration) was selected for Academic Excellence because she is the only graduating senior in the Orfalea College of Business with a 4.0. She also recently was part of a student delegation that presented its research on taxation in front of the United State House of Representatives.

Headshot of Miriam Abdoh and Leanna McMahon

Contributions to the Objectives and Public Image of the College

Miriam Abdoh & Leanna McMahon

This award considers participation in departmental and college-wide clubs, committees, special projects and activities. Service to the college is of greatest emphasis. This year the award was presented in a two-way tie to Miriam Abdoh (left) and Leanna McMahon (right). Miriam (Business Administration) is the president of the College of Business Ambassadors, a member of the coed professional business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi, a Lead Career Peer Advisor in OCOB’s Career Readiness Center, and sits as the student representative on OCOB’s Dean’s Advisory Council. Leena (Business Administration) is an OCOB Peer Advisor, a member of the Cal Poly Women in Business Club, and serves on the board for Cal the Poly Accounting Club.

Headshot of Morgan McIntyre

Contributions to the Objectives and Public Image of the University

Morgan McIntyre

This award is given to a student who has made an outstanding contribution to the university as a whole, with primary emphasis placed on involvement in university-wide organizations, committees and projects. Morgan McIntyre (Business Administration) has worked as a WOW Orientation Leader and as an OCOB First-Year Mentor. She also sits on the Women in Business Club’s Defining Her Future Committee and is a Disability Resource Center Student Lead. Additionally, she volunteers with the Arthritis Foundation, SLO Animal Services, SLO Food Bank, and is in-home aid for children with autism.

Headshot of Minami Kawamoto

Service to the Community

Minami Kawamoto

Service to the off-campus community is of greatest emphasis in this award, accounting in part for

the individual’s efforts to involve other students in service, the difficulty of the service performed, the impact on the off-campus community, and the amount of time contributed. Minami Kawamoto (Business Administration) is an active member on the board of the Cal Poly Accounting Club, the President of the International Students Club, and has served more than 100 hours community service through various social service agencies.

Interview: Jack Keefer

Research student Jack Keefer giving a lecture.

A Q&A with the student researcher covering his work on the relationship between social media, anxiety, and body image.

By Laura Maranta

A graduate of OCOB’s undergraduate and graduate programs, Jack Keefer is currently a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara and an experienced economics student researcher. Recently, he joined Cal Poly Economics professor Dr. Jaqueline Doremus in a follow-up study to his senior project. The study is novel in providing evidence that body image is a mechanism for the relationship between social media and anxiety and depression. While the study participants were high schoolers, it is very clear that the results apply to social media users of all ages.

 Keefer represented Cal Poly at the statewide virtual CSU research competition on May 1 in the Behavioral and Social Sciences category and placed second in a highly competitive field. He presented the findings of this research to a panel of professional experts from major corporations, foundations, public agencies, and universities in California.

We followed up with him to discuss this research, its implications, and what he plans to do next.

Can you give us a brief overview of your work? 

I did my senior project looking at the effects of social media on anxiety and depression. We did a small survey at a high school and we were able to get some preliminary results. Some of the results looked promising so, the next year, we decided to make it bigger and better. That’s when Dr. Doremus and I teamed up to work on a survey asking further questions. There are questions asking high schoolers about anxiety and depression, lifestyle and time-use. The questions on areas such as exercise, sleep, socializing, and time with family were one of the primary features of the study. Participants were also asked about demographics such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, and about their parents. All these different things might affect anxiety or depression or mood disorders. We also asked them about body image and if they’ve been bullied. This gave us a really nice set of controls. We gathered all this data at four high schools and got about 2,400 respondents. The surveys were given out by the high schools themselves and they gave us the anonymized data. What we found is that there was a heterogeneous effect. Kids that were using high amounts of social media had higher amounts of anxiety and depression and body image issues. The effects of body image issues were different for male and female students, which was interesting. Our core question ended up being whether social media and its impact on anxiety and depression went through body image as a mediator or mechanism. Our study provides evidence that body image is a mediator for the impact of anxiety and depression for female students and our study is unique to show evidence for that relationship, which is a relationship that hasn’t been looked at in the past.

How did you start researching this topic?

The opportunity presented itself, actually. I have a lot of interest in applied microeconomics, which often uses empirical techniques to look at questions which may or may not be traditionally economic questions but may have economic implications. As a result, I’m interested in a whole range of topics, and this is one of them. We know some of our students are anxious, depressed, or have a negative body image, resulting in major impacts on our society which are relevant to economics. I was really given the opportunity by the school district I was working with to run a survey like this and they were interested in the results. The opportunity was available to me, and I thought it was interesting so I went with it. 

What advice would you give people at any age regarding your findings on social media and mental health?

From our findings as well as some findings in the literature, generally, we should be really cognizant of what we are doing on social media. Looking at attractive people on social media, for example, does seem to have higher effects on body image and mood than simply spending time consuming other forms of content. I would say it would be really important if you’re someone who uses a lot of social media to be really aware of what you’re consuming. Often what you’re consuming isn’t always realistic. The big takeaway is to remind yourself that you do have worth and social media gives an artificial image of reality that can mess with your mental health.

“What we found there was a heterogeneous effect. Kids who were using high amounts of social media had higher amounts of anxiety and depression and body image issues.” 

Has this study had an impact on your own social media habits? 

I feel like as I’ve gotten older I use less social media. I do think there is value to social media, however. I personally don’t use it a lot but I don’t know what’s happening in my friends’ and families’ lives when I don’t see them, which, especially during COVID, is really detrimental. Other studies have found, too, that there are costs with social media. If people do spend all their time on it, it can kind of get in the way of other things they have going on in their lives, including creating a sense that you have relationships, when the brain doesn’t really see them that way because interpersonal relationships are more than just texting. I think the big takeaway is that social media isn’t inherently bad, but it also has repercussions like every technology ever invented. We need to be aware to educate our children and create good policy to deal with these new platforms as society in the right way. 

How do you think this research interacts with the amount of time we are spending on our phones during COVID-19?

From a researcher’s perspective, I have no idea. But from an everyday perspective, I think generally the finding is people are on their phones more, without being super precise. There’s one sense where it pushes us to use more social media because we aren’t in person but we aren’t offsetting it with real life counterbalances. Then, we feel like we have these real relationships but social media relationships aren’t real relationships. We do need to be careful with social media during this time because we use more of it and its effects are going to be amplified. My findings are limited to before COVID. This is kind of my speculation, based on what we’ve found and also what I’ve read in other studies.

You recently represented Cal Poly at the statewide CSU research competition. What was that opportunity like?

The presentation seemed to go really well. It was a great opportunity to be there. It’s a really proud moment when you can represent your alma mater. I was pretty excited to go do that at the statewide level. It really affirms a lot of the work that Dr. Doremus and I were able to do and reaffirms that the research we are doing is valuable. It was exciting to be able to meet other researchers and have the experience of being in a competition like this because I hope to be doing research like this for the rest of my career.

“The big takeaway for me is to remind yourself that you do have worth and social media gives an artificial image of reality that can mess with your mental health.”

What are your future research plans? 

We had some other plans for this study and then COVID happened and all that fell through. We would love to do a form of this study that is randomized or has some form of exogenous variation. If we don’t do that, I’m open to doing research all over the place. I’ll probably move on to other subjects which may or may not have anything to do with mental health because a lot of economics studies a component of human behavior.

What’s your advice for any Cal Poly students who want to get involved with research?

Your professors are your absolute greatest resource, especially, in my opinion, in the Economics Department. We have a lot of very talented researchers, who were some of the best researchers in their PhD class when they were at some of the best schools in the world and I think we take that for granted. I had the honor of working closely with Dr. Doremus, as well as Dr. [Carlos] Flores. I think a second piece of advice is to take classes in statistics and practical fields. You kind of have to go further than just the standard undergraduate curriculum and add some statistics classes to your electives. These classes help you in doing the actual analysis. A third practical piece of advice beyond the undergrad level but for research generally, is every time you have a question about the world, write it down. The hardest part of doing your senior project or master’s capstone or thesis is thinking of the question you want to ask, and finding a question that is a really good research question. When you have pages of questions, you can pick one, and hopefully one of those questions has some data or evidence you can find for or against your hypothesis.