Citing a lack of opportunities for students to learn about finance at Bowdoin, a group of female students are working to start a chapter of Smart Woman Securities (SWS), a national organization committed to providing an undergraduate community with resources for women interested in investing and personal finance. Currently, SWS has chapters at large research institutions and women’s colleges; the Bowdoin chapter would be an atypical choice for the organization. 

Bowdoin SWS is in the soft launch process this semester and if successful, will be officially chartered next fall.

The chartering initiative is spearheaded by a founding team of four students across class years: Jiaqi Duan ’17, Leaf Ma ’18, Carina Sun ’19 and Ruilin Yang ’20. The students wanted to teach women at Bowdoin about finance, and according to their Facebook page, provide them with the, “[s]kills necessary to make investment decisions through global market education, exposure to industry professionals, and real-world financial experience.”

Duan wanted to bring SWS to Bowdoin after her involvement with the organization during her junior year away at Harvard University. She is familiar with being in the female minority in economics classes and finance internships—one of her economics classes at Bowdoin had three women in a group of 30 students. She found Harvard’s branch of SWS to be useful and empowering.

“I realized how much I had benefited from SWS when I was at Harvard—I just thought it would be an amazing opportunity to bring here to Bowdoin,” Duan said.

Sun explained that because learning about the basics of finance is difficult at Bowdoin, she wanted to start the organization to teach other women these important skills.

“You probably just want to deal with personal finance, manage your money, invest in stocks. There is no path for you to get involved in finance if you are not an economics major,” said Sun.

Around 100 people signed up for the group’s mailing list and about 20 came to its initial information session. However, there has been some concern about the group’s presence on campus.

The Bowdoin College Finance Society, which states that its primary purpose is to help students launch careers in finance, is largely male-dominated. This led to concern that starting a female finance group would further divide men and women interested in finance on campus. However, Sun disagreed, noting that nothing stops students from participating in both groups. 

“There isn’t a lot of overlap, especially in terms of the events or the frequency of meetings,” Sun explained.  

She added that the groups have different goals. While the finance society is more career-oriented, Sun said that female empowerment is a crucial focus of the SWS mission. 

The organization must become nationally chartered before it can formally charter with the College. The process of chartering with the national organization has been complex and takes a year to complete. In December, the students submitted a 10-page interest application. After passing that round, they submitted a 30-page document in January explaining their plans for the soft launch process this semester.

During the soft launch process, the founding team is provided with funds and holds weekly conference calls with the SWS national organization. During this process they are required to put on three events and provide the national organization with weekly updates.

The three events planned for the semester are an investment-themed “Jeopardy” night, a panel discussion on personal finance and an asset allocation simulation workshop.

At the end of the semester, the group will submit its final chapter prospectus—a reflection and evaluation of its work over the semester. If the charter is approved, SWS will start with a 10-week seminar series in the fall.

The seminar series will be based on materials provided by the national organization. The founding team hopes to bring speakers, preferably professionals in the finance field, to lead the discussions. It hopes that the lectures will be both enjoyable and instructive, and has high hopes for the organization’s future success at Bowdoin.

“We want it to be something that is of a really high standard, that people know is going to be somewhat of a time commitment, but if they put in the time, they are going to get so much out of it,” Duan said. “They are going to know that when they put it on their resume, this is going to be something that has a lot of recognition, and it does.”