Cal Poly Students Tie for First in Low-Income Housing Plan Competition

Sanctuary 6 team from Cal PolyAn interdisciplinary team of Cal Poly students shared first place in the 2016 Bank of America Merrill Lynch Low-Income Housing Challenge (LIHC). The team included students from architecture, economics, finance, city and regional planning, and construction management.

While a Cal Poly team has taken first place in the conceptual contest for six of the last 11 years, this year’s entry, Sanctuary 6, was designed to be something that could actually be built to house veterans in the City of San Luis Obispo. The name Sanctuary 6 comes from the military adage “got your six,” which refers to standing back-to-back with a comrade to provide defense and support.

To develop the comprehensive proposal, the team partnered with more than 17 community groups including People’s Self Help Housing, the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo, and Supportive Services for Veteran Families. Dozens of veterans and veterans’ service professionals gave direct feedback on what was needed for a development to be a successful community for veterans.

The project was designed around six key pillars specific to the veteran community: a veteran population, independence, support, camaraderie, connectivity and sustainability. The project combined innovative architectural and planning practices, including LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification, pet-friendly amenities, and fully accessible floor plans for residents with disabilities.

“Sanctuary 6 is positioned to be the first grassroots veteran housing project of its kind,” said Bryan Shields, architecture professor in Cal Poly’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design. “The level to which this project has engaged the community alone puts it on the cutting edge of community planning initiatives.”

Other finalists included UC Berkeley, which tied for first place; UCLA; the University of Washington; and the University of Arizona.

Cal Poly team members include:

– Architecture students Annelise Barbieri (Stockton, Calif.), Amy Rutty (Folsom, Calif.), Chloe Eitzer (Bethany, Conn.), Chris McCoy (Galt, Calif.), Jordan Keiser (Muskego, Wis.), Mengdi Zhang (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) and Rodrigo Robles-Gonzalez (San Jose, Calif.);

– City and regional planning students Justin Frentzel (Pittsburg, Calif.) and Emily Foley (Santa Clara, Calif.);

– Construction management major Charlie Andrews (San Diego, Calif.);

– Economics major Nathan Roberts (Orange, Calif.); and

– Finance major Andrew Fortner (Los Osos, Calif.).

Shields and Finance Professor Pratish Patel from the Orfalea College of Business served as faculty advisors.

“The team worked diligently and passionately on a project that can make a difference,” Patel said, “and team members will continue to work their hardest in the hopes that this project gets started.”

From WOW to Now: Finance’s Trevor and Ciera Ashley

Trevor and Ciera AshleyTrevor and Ciera Ashley met while studying finance at Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business. After graduating, the both went on to lead successful – but very different – careers in the field. Hear what they’ve been up to since graduation and how they still Learn by Doing today.

How did you meet?

Ciera & Trevor: Like so many of our married friends from Cal Poly, we met in the dorms in 1999. Ciera was a freshmen and lived in Trinity Hall while Trevor was a sophomore and worked at the front desk of Trinity Hall (passing out mail was an easy way to meet freshmen ladies – smart chap). We met early in the school year and became quick friends. A couple of years later, we decided to study abroad at Oxford University in England where we fell in love. We were married in 2009 at the Enda Valley Vineyard.

Tell us about your paths after graduating from Cal Poly to getting to where you are today.

Ciera: Since graduating from Cal Poly, I have worked hard to expand and nurture my network, which has led to job opportunities and promotions. In that spirit, I went to business school at the Berkeley Haas School of Business, stayed in close contact with past classmates and work colleagues, and helped friends and colleagues in their career endeavors.  Most importantly, I have learned that working with smart, motivated, and ethical people is extremely rewarding and challenges me to improve and be creative.

Trevor: Upon graduating from Cal Poly, I went into investment banking in the Bay Area, joining a Consumer Mergers and Acquisitions team where I developed a passion for consumer brands. I’ve followed that passion ever since, transitioning into private equity, where I have been investing in consumer companies for the last 10 years.

You both graduated Cal Poly within a year of each other, however, you’ve had pretty unique career paths. What are the major ways in which your careers have been different? How are they the same?

Ciera: There are numerous career opportunities in finance. In endowment management, I work with a team to maintain (and ideally increase) the philanthropic purchasing power of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. To accomplish this, we invest the foundation’s $6 billion endowment in various asset classes (including private equity) with different expected return and risk profiles. In private equity, Trevor works to directly acquire and grow cash flowing businesses that will generate wealth over the long-term for his investors. Risk management is a key part of both of our investment roles.

How have you learned from each other in your careers?

Ciera: Trevor knows me better than anyone else, which means he has been able to provide honest and constructive career advice and feedback. We have each other’s best interests at heart, which means we are honest when it comes to things like interview preparation, resume drafting, and navigating political issues at the office. When I ask Trevor something, he provides an honest response. I’m grateful for his opinions and I am tougher as a result.

Trevor: As a former management consultant, and now an investor in multiple asset classes, Ciera sees the world from a very different view and can offer unique and powerful insights that I might not otherwise see as a direct investor in private companies. We often bounce ideas off of each other and challenge one another to approach things differently. I think we are both better professionals as a result. Furthermore, it is crucial to have a strong support system when working in a demanding profession or making big career decisions. Ciera has been an incredible partner both personally and professionally, enabling me to take career-related risks and challenges.

What has surprised you most about your investment careers?

Ciera: In the beginning, I assumed an investment career would be primarily about investment analysis and improving upon that skillset. While continuing to improve my analytical skillset has been an important driver of my career development, I have learned that working with fantastic people has had the most positive influence on my career. In my opinion, career happiness and success are the result of working with great people and being a respectful, productive, and intellectually honest team player.

Trevor:  A private equity career certainly requires an analytical skillset, but there is also a tremendous amount of salesmanship and networking needed for a successful long-term career in this industry. In private equity, an individual is always selling himself /herself and their firm’s unique value proposition.

How has Learn by Doing manifested itself in your professional worlds?

Ciera & Trevor: With technology changing the way business is conducted, there are now many ventures being founded by younger individuals without former career experience.  This means many careers will necessarily be built through “Learn by Doing”. Cal Poly fosters this skillset through programs like the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship that provide an early opportunity to get business experience.

How do you stay connected with Cal Poly?

Ciera: Cal Poly is incredibly special to me.  It’s where I met my husband, best girlfriends, and a special professor that inspired me to pursue a career in finance. I remain close with all of these people today. And, it’s been fun to “grow up” with my girlfriends over the past seventeen years. Our conversations have evolved from coaching each other on how to get our first jobs, to planning weddings, and now, to navigating the challenges of parenthood. Cal Poly definitely provided a platform to make numerous relationships that I treasure today. As a result, I remain an active resource for current students seeking careers in finance and periodically volunteer on campus at career symposiums.

Trevor: Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo County each hold a special place in my heart, so much so that my wife and I were married at the Edna Valley Vineyard. We make several trips to San Luis Obispo each year to participate in Cal Poly finance events and enjoy the beautiful central coast with our family. I am now a member of the Orfalea College of Business Dean’s Advisory Council and have enjoyed learning about Dean Scott Dawson’s new vision for the Orfalea College of Business and am excited for its future.

Trevor: It sounds like your career has had some elements of entrepreneurship and disruption. How does innovation manifest itself in a finance career?

Trevor: My career has certainly had some interesting twists and turns, but it really comes down to two things.  First, pursuing something you are excited to get up every day to do, and second, working with talented and trustworthy people who can challenge you to grow professionally. I’ve had a couple of doors unexpectedly close, which required some professional reinvention.  However, with the support of my wife and a fair amount of hard work and patience, new doors opened that I never thought possible.

Ciera: What is it like facing financial volatility through the lens of your company’s altruistic mission? Does it change how you view risk?

Ciera: Risk management is a key part of our job as investment managers. While we look to generate sufficient returns to maintain the foundation’s purchasing power, we diligently work to ensure that we do not subject the endowment, and ultimately our grantees, to unnecessary or unforeseen risks.

Any advice for students looking to enter a career in finance today?

Ciera: Excellent grades and thoughtful networking definitely facilitated my job search process after college. I still continue to work very hard to nurture my professional network, which is one of the reasons I was invited back to work at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Trevor: Find your passion, talk to as many people as you can about their respective careers, and pursue internships in fields of interest. You never know who could be sitting next to you on an airplane or what they might be able to teach you.  My career has been built through hard work, persistence, networking, and a little luck.  I’m a big fan of the phrase “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Orfalea College of Business Announces New Area Chairs

Norm Borin and John DobsonThe Orfalea College of Business announced that Professors Norm Borin and John Dobson have been appointed as the new area chairs for marketing and finance, respectively.

Professor Borin will return as the college’s Marketing area chair, a position that he also held from 2002 to 2007. He succeeds Lynn Metcalf, who served as the marketing area chair from 2007 to 2015. Borin joined Cal Poly in 1992 as a marketing professor and specializes in consumer goods, marketing strategy and sustainable business. He has taught at the Copenhagen Business College in Denmark, Seinajoki Polytechnic Business School in Finland, University of the Basque in Spain, and Chiang-Mail University in Thailand. Borin earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Fisheries from UC Davis, an MBA from California State University in Sacramento, and a doctorate from the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia.

Professor Dobson will be taking over as the chair for the Finance area from Cyrus Ramezani, who held the position from 2006 to 2015. Dobson joined the finance faculty of Cal Poly in 1990, where he has engaged in extensive research on the connections between the theories of financial economics and moral philosophy. More recently, he has expanded his research focus to include ethics theory as well as aesthetics theory. Dobson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from the University of Lancaster in the United Kingdom, and a Master of Arts in Economics as well as a doctorate in Finance from the University of South Carolina.

As area chairs, Borin and Dobson will be responsible for providing leadership and administrative guidance to ensure that their respective areas are staying in step with university objectives, job market expectations and the latest industry trends.

Cal Poly Students Excel on 2015 Chartered Financial Analyst Exam

006_financeA group of Cal Poly finance students in the Orfalea College of Business achieved outstanding success on the latest Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Level 1 Exam with a pass rate of 67 percent — well above the exam’s average pass rate of 42 percent.

Cal Poly students who took the 2015 exam also improved upon their peers’ 2014 pass rate of 61 percent.

The CFA Charter designation is the “gold standard for finance professionals worldwide and requires passing a series of three rigorous exams. The Orfalea College of Business is one of about 300 business schools worldwide that incorporate CFA curricula.

Cal Poly students prepare to take their Level 1 exam as part of the CFA Challenge, a senior project created in 2007 by finance Professor Cyrus Ramezani. Each year, Cal Poly students have outperformed the national pass rate by significant margins.

The vast majority of the 125,400 candidates who took the CFA Exam in 2015 were industry professionals with years of experience. The CFA notes that each exam requires about 300 hours of preparation over the course of several months, and candidates need an average of four years to pass the trio of exams.

Candidates who successfully complete the series and take a strict oath of ethics are considered CFA Charterholders, a designation that affords professionals greater employment opportunities and salary potential.

“Our hard-working faculty and students have stepped up to not only sustain success but to improve upon it,” said Scott Dawson, dean of the Orfalea College of Business. “Our Finance area’s commitment to career readiness is the foundation for the success of its graduates and its growing reputation among hiring companies.

Finance area faculty construct the yearlong CFA Challenge to be an intense, self-directed study of financial ethics, economics, accounting and quantitative methods. Students take multiple, full-length practice tests, each spanning six hours. Since Cal Poly established the CFA Challenge in 2007, the course has grown to include undergraduate and MBA candidates in the Orfalea College of Business.

For information on the CFA exam, visit

Senior Spotlight: Nate Fisher

Cyrus Ramezani and Nate Fisher

Finance area Chair Cyrus Ramezani (L) and Nate Fisher (R).

Nate Fisher is graduating Cal Poly with a degree in business administration and a concentration in finance. The Thousand Oaks, Calif. native chose Cal Poly because of all the opportunities Learn by Doing presented him. One of those opportunities came to life with the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Institute Research Challenge, a global competition that invites university teams to make buy/sell/hold recommendations for real companies. The experience requires months of intensive research in financial analysis and hands-on mentoring from faculty, alumni and industry experts from the subject company.

Fisher competed on Cal Poly’s CFA Challenge team in 2015, working with subject company Disney. With guidance from Finance area Chair Professor Cyrus Ramezani and industry mentor Scott Kirk, Cal Poly’s team won the Los Angeles regional and advanced to the Americas competition in Atlanta where the group finished as semi-finalists. At each event, the team presented and defended their analysis to panels of CFA chart holders and Disney executives.

Disney’s team took notice of Fisher’s leadership throughout the competition and invited him to interview for a position within the company. After several successful meetings, Fisher was offered a job. Following graduation, he will begin his career as a corporate financial planning analyst for the Walt Disney Company, dealing with company operations, capital planning, quarterly and annual earnings and cash flow forecasting and five-year plans. Fisher’s team will also help construct presentations for corporate senior management and the board of directors regarding financial performance.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled for the opportunity to work for a company as amazing as Disney,” said Fisher. “I think this opportunity speaks volumes for the quality of the Cal Poly Finance area. Without the opportunity and guidance provided by Professor Ramezani, I would likely not be in the position that I am in.”

Aside from the competition, Fisher also participated in the Student Managed Portfolio in the Orfalea College of Business, which empowers students to invest $500,000 of Cal Poly funds. Fisher encourages all finance students to enroll in this senior project to gain Learn by Doing experience and valuable insight into the financial markets.