Start of this grad's career is already a done deal

With her degree in finance and economics from GCU complete, Alison Smith is ready to begin her career with Morgan Stanley.

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau

Alison Smith practiced what Grand Canyon University’s leaders preach. See where it has gotten her?

A degree in finance and economics.

Passing the Security Industry Essentials (SIE) exam.

Bloomberg certification.

An internship with Morgan Stanley … and now a full-time job with the investment banking giant after she graduated Friday at Winter Commencement (See a slideshow/video here).

Smith accepts the diploma jacket from GCU Provost Dr. Hank Radda.

GCU’s entire academic program is built around doing, not just learning. And Smith most certainly did.

“All this knowledge is great, but unless you’re using it to some benefit, what’s the point, really?” she said. “I love that it’s been about more than just, ‘Hey, here are some facts, here’s how you crunch some numbers, go do something with it.’ It’s like, ‘We’re teaching you this stuff so you can go make an impact.’”

And to think it all started so humbly. She was a bit unsure of herself as she settled into her first freshman year finance class, taught by Alan Klibanoff. He quickly became her biggest mentor.

“He gave me the confidence that I needed,” she said. “I felt like I could do big things, but to have someone recognize it in me definitely gave me that little bit of confidence, like, ‘Hey, maybe I can go for something big and not just settle, career-wise.’”

Klibanoff’s view:

“Alison is sincere, dedicated, has a strong work ethic. Even more impressive, she is one of the most humble and coachable individuals I have ever had the privilege of meeting.”

Finance professor Alan Klibanoff (left), with GCU President Brian Mueller in the new Charles Schwab Foundation Finance Center, was a Senior Vice President for Morgan Stanley before coming to the University.

Klibanoff was a Senior Vice President for Morgan Stanley before coming to GCU, which is typical of the been-there, done-that experience found throughout the Colangelo College of Business (CCOB) faculty. His knowledge of the organization was comforting to Smith as she looked for internship possibilities last spring.

“I wanted something the summer after my junior year because that’s where everyone finds their place. I had applied to a couple and had offers from other ones but none that I was super excited about, and then the Morgan Stanley one popped up.

“It was kind of the perfect balance of what I was looking for because it’s a rotational program that they offer. Even in my internship, I worked in the branch setting, but every couple weeks we would shift into a different department.

“It was really cool because I knew I wanted to go into the financial services industry, but that could mean a lot of different things. To be able to see the different areas in that, all within a couple of months, was awesome. I really got to dip my toe into a little bit of everything.”

By graduating in 3½ years, Smith will save on one semester of tuition and get a head start on her career. She’ll fill a client services/associates role for her first six months at Morgan Stanley, and that will feed into a two-year rotational program – four months in each department – that starts in June.

“Financial advising would be the big goal just because it has the client-facing aspect that I really like,” she said. “It’s a little entrepreneurial, so every day is different and you can plan your days a little more. There are a lot of steps that go into that, so it may not be a right away thing. But there’s also the management side that I saw more of during the internship.

Smith looks forward to helping people as a financial advisor.

“I think the two years will solidify for me the exact path I want to go. There are just so many different areas and paths, and talking to everyone there, everyone ended up in their position a different way. It’s not like there’s one path you take to get to this.”

But there’s one aspect of the path that won’t change for her: She just wants to assist people.

“I’ve really realized, taking more financial courses and being so focused on that here, there’s a lot that people just don’t know unless they have the help,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with that – I mean, it’s not like you’re born knowing all this.

“Being able to do it for someone as a career, it’s more than helping them financially. It’s also providing people with the peace of mind, knowing someone is helping them and they don’t have to worry about it. I think it’s a great way to help people foundationally.”

The Tucson native came to GCU at the perfect time: The new CCOB Building was done, and the campus kept offering more and more amenities and advantages as it grew. One of those advantages is providing the tools for the SIE exam, which all financial services professionals must pass to work in the industry.

“To be able to get all the materials and the testing paid for is crazy,” she said. “Most of the time you’re not doing that until you start your first job. I have friends getting finance degrees at other colleges, and I don’t think any of them have been offered the same thing.”

Colangelo College of Business Dean Dr. Randy Gibb speaks at the grand opening of the Charles Schwab Foundation Finance Center.

The Bloomberg certification was done in the new Charles Schwab Foundation Finance Center, which opened this fall on the first floor of the CCOB Building. Smith loved watching the televisions in the room scroll stock market news and numbers.

“It’s a cool place to learn,” she said.

Said CCOB Dean Dr. Randy Gibb, “We are so grateful for the learning opportunities that the Charles Schwab Foundation Finance Center is providing to students – Alison is one of many to leverage the resources provided via Charles Schwab as well as the mentorship from our amazing finance team. Now she is off to serve others with Morgan Stanley.”

Smith's thoughts as she goes forward:

“That’s my biggest takeaway – all this knowledge is only as good as what you do with it. It’s more about the character of how you’re bringing it into the world as opposed to just the fact that you know it.”

Just as the University drew it up. Smith is done at GCU, but she has only just begun to do so much more.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].

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