Accelerated Learning, Accelerated Careers
New Program Connects Whitman Students to Alumni Working in Finance
By Andrew Faught
Walking the downtown Seattle corridors of Goldman Sachs in April 2023, Whitman College undergraduates came prepared with questions and more than a little curiosity. Each of them, after all, is considering a career in finance, and the investment banking giant could be their future workplace.
John Burpee ’89, who leads the company’s private wealth management business in the Pacific Northwest region, is an enthusiastic supporter of the college’s inaugural Finance Accelerator. The program is designed to—as advertised—“accelerate” students’ knowledge of financial careers.
Liberal arts graduates bring effective problem-solving skills to the world of finance—but there’s more to consider, Burpee says.
“What is sometimes missing is that first step from campus into the industry, and this program will help bridge the gap so that we can create a pipeline of talented Whitman undergraduates.”
20 Weeks of Learning
Over the course of three days, the students visited alumni and employees at Goldman Sachs, as well as Bellevue-based private equity firm Trilogy Search Partners, investment bank Chinook Capital and West Monroe, a business management consulting firm based in Seattle. The trip was a culmination of 20 weeks of learning in which the sophomores and juniors attended seminars and considered case studies in financial concepts and modeling/analysis, as well as met one-on-one or in small groups with alumni, during which they could ask questions and network.
Jack Dorsey ’25 learned about working in finance, but it was the people he met that made the biggest impression. “Our conversations were basically, ‘What brings you to this firm? What about this work interests you? What advice do you have for me?’” says Dorsey ’25, an Economics major from Silver Spring, Maryland. “At the end, we’d ask if we could add them to our LinkedIn network. They were genuinely happy to see us, and as Whitman alumni, we were all a tight-knit crew. The most valuable part I took away was the connections.”
Dorsey is now applying for internships and is eventually considering a government-related finance career or work in the private sector. Graduates with finance backgrounds have numerous options—they can work as accountants or auditors, credit analysts, brokers and traders, financial analysts, budget analysts or personal financial planners.
When it comes to helping mentor younger Whitties for success, alumni eagerly signed on for the accelerator experience, says Kim Rolfe, Co-Director of the college’s Career and Community Engagement Center. They readily shared their experiences, wisdom and time with the students.
“Whitman alumni are so dedicated to this institution, and they’re very interested in helping the next generation of students move into their professional arena,” Rolfe adds.
“We are able to have a two-way dialogue that provides heightened awareness and a foothold for students that previously didn’t formally exist,” says Burpee. “Our objective is to help provide hands-on knowledge of finance and relationship capital for Whitman students to leverage in their decision making, and in the early stages of their career paths.”
In addition to networking and mentorship, Whitman finance alumni shared important information, such as resume tips and information on internship deadlines. Some internships involve a 15-month application process.
“If students don’t recognize that timeline, then they’re going to be too late,” says Rolfe, who created the accelerator with Marian Manic, then Associate Professor of Economics. “We thought, ‘How can we build something that supports students’ growth and professional development?’ We’re getting them the information that they need to be successful by giving them hands-on experiences earlier than if left to their own devices.”
While internships aren’t guaranteed as part of the accelerator, “students are building a great deal of understanding and preparedness to pursue internship opportunities,” Rolfe says. And the accelerator is showing some early promise. “We have two students who were invited to interview at Goldman Sachs in Seattle, and that had not happened in the past.”
The accelerator is also helpful in other ways. “You’re going to build your understanding of what it means to successfully create relationships with people in business,” Rolfe says. “You’re also going to build your financial modeling skills to maybe move into a summer analyst role, which is a pretty common internship experience.”
Students aren’t the only accelerator beneficiaries. Alumni saw their participation as a way to reconnect with their alma mater and return the favors gained from their own top-notch liberal arts education.
“Mentoring Whitman students is not only a great way to give back to the college, but it’s also an energizing and rewarding professional experience,” says accelerator participant Jack Percival ’16, a Goldman Sachs asset and wealth manager. “The students who we worked with were bright, engaged and curious, and their questions pushed me to go deeper on the topics we were discussing.”
Trilogy analyst and accelerator participant Klaudia Kyjovska ’22 praised the event and commended the students’ ability to think beyond classroom theory and apply it to real-life circumstances.
“Students were eager to ask questions, learn from our day-to-day experiences, and let their financial and business curiosity drive their insights,” she says. “I think sometimes it can be challenging for students to balance the extent to which a project is an academic exercise versus a real-life investment case, but these students stepped up and produced some great work. They even made me appreciate new outside-the-box insights about the investment case they looked at.”
Better Prepared for What Comes Next
At West Monroe, consultant Reily Wilken ’21, who works in mergers and acquisitions, urged company executives to host accelerator students and share their tips for success.
“They are more than happy to provide educational opportunities to students who are interested in consulting and could become potential candidates,” he says. “West Monroe has strong undergraduate pipelines across the country, but we are continuously trying to reach out to new schools and candidates that could contribute to the firm’s culture and success.”
Students committed to several weeks of learning and gave up part of their Spring Break to take part in the program. Rolfe is hoping to double student participation in the coming year, as well as involve a broader pool of alumni industry partners.
“This kind of additional support, paired with a really great liberal arts education, means that our students are even better prepared to be competitive in those environments,” says Rolfe, who joined Whitman in 2013 as Director of Business Engagement, after working for two decades as a product manager in the apparel industry.
“We felt the pilot ran as we expected,” she says. “We’re still waiting to see if students make it through the gauntlet of the internship application process. We’re not really modeling this program off of anything that exists, so we’re building it as we’re testing it.”
Whitman also added a Finance minor—beginning this academic year. This new minor will further support the career interests of Whitman students and can be paired with any major.