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EPIC’s InvestED: Introducing AUA Students to Wall Street and Beyond

5 min read

YEREVAN, Armenia In response to the growing need for enhanced financial literacy among young people in Armenia, the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) at the American University of Armenia (AUA) launched EPIC InvestED in the fall of 2023, an initiative aimed at equipping young individuals with essential financial knowledge, skills, and experience.

Introduced through a series of interactive sessions with AUA professors and outside investment experts, InvestED seeks to address the complexities of modern finance and investment by providing participants with practical, hands-on insight into investment principles. The initiative aims to empower students with the tools necessary to navigate financial and investment decisions effectively by covering topics such as saving, money management, investing, risk management, and critical thinking.

A highlight of InvestED is the active participation of students in the Stock Market Game™ hosted by the SIFMA Foundation. This internationally renowned simulation platform offers students hands-on experience in the world of investment, allowing them to apply their theoretical knowledge in a competitive environment. Through participation in the Stock Market Game™, students not only gain exposure to the intricacies of saving and investing, but also develop valuable decision-making skills essential for success in today’s global economy.

The significance of initiatives like InvestED cannot be overlooked in a world where financial literacy is increasingly acknowledged as a fundamental skill. One of the participants, Lilit Shabanyan (BAB ’26), shared: “Our sessions at InvestED have been transformative, teaching me invaluable lessons and fundamentally changing my understanding of wealth. The most significant insight I got is that merely earning a lot isn’t the key to ‘becoming rich;’ instead, it’s how you manage and save your money that counts. This has opened my eyes to the importance of financial literacy and the power of making informed decisions”.

By providing students with access to practical financial education, EPIC contributes to laying the groundwork for a generation of young people better prepared to navigate the complexities of the financial world. 

Fostering Student Learning: Comprehensive Finance and Investing Sessions

During the program, students participated in a series of sessions organized by a couple of AUA students passionate about the field who also previously engaged in EPIC programs such as STRIVE or the Incubation program. When talking about InvestED, Daniel Stepanyan (BAPG ’27), one of the co-organizers, mentioned: “My passion for entrepreneurship and the investment world naturally led me to get involved in this initiative with EPIC. I see myself as an investment banker in the future, and InvestED has provided me with invaluable insights and experiences to further fuel my aspirations in this field.” The curriculum covered various topics, including fundamental analysis, market conditions, and portfolio construction, providing a holistic understanding of financial principles. Under the guidance of seasoned professionals and industry experts, these sessions offered a critical look into the workings of financial markets. Guest speakers brought real-world expertise to the table, enriching discussions and offering practical perspectives on investment strategies and market dynamics. 

The program started with introductory sessions by Dr. Michael Kouchakdjian, director of EPIC and professor in AUA’s Manoogian Simone College of Business and Economics. He led sessions focusing on fundamental finance principles, the basics of investing, and the importance of economic trends and news flow. His expertise provided students with a solid foundation in financial theory and practice, setting the stage for deeper exploration into finance.

During the program, students had the opportunity to conduct online sessions with Anna Bruno, an expert from the U.S. She is a seasoned finance professional with over two decades of experience with companies such as Salomon Smith Barney, Citi, and AXA, offering indispensable insights into money psychology, portfolio diversification, and financial planning. She is the founder of the Thrive Armenia Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that envisions a flourishing and prosperous Armenia blossoming in both economic and technological advancements. Reflecting on her experience with InvestEd, Bruno commented: “The program has provided valuable opportunities for students to enhance their knowledge and skills in these areas. I am impressed by the dedication and enthusiasm of the individuals participating in the program. I believe that financial literacy and knowing how to invest are crucial in today’s economic environment and critical for a person’s ability to save and grow their wealth.”

Moving on throughout the journey, Dr. Lena Sessian, a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and esteemed member of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), enriched the program with her knowledge of accounting and finance. With experience teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at AUA, Dr. Sessian brought a practical perspective to financial analysis and management.

Another exciting topic, risk management, was covered by Alisa Chalakhyan, lead organizer of EPIC’s Pre-Incubation program, STRIVE, and an alumna of Columbia University with a Master of Science degree in enterprise risk management. During her sessions, students gained a deeper understanding of risk assessment and mitigation strategies, essential skills in navigating the volatile landscape of financial markets. “Risks are some of the hardest pills to swallow when talking about investments. I was very excited to have an interesting and illuminating conversation with the attendees. Most importantly, the students surprised me with their awareness and interest in such complex topics at this early stage in their learning, which makes me believe InvestED was created for the right group at the right time,” Chalakhyan said.

Exploring Investments Through Simulation: The Stock Market Game™

The Stock Market Game™ by the SIFMA Foundation is a dynamic simulation platform designed to impart financial literacy and investment strategies to students. This innovative tool serves as a virtual playground where participants can explore the intricacies of the financial markets in a risk-free environment, by acting as real-world investment bankers from Wall Street.

As soon as EPIC announced the initiative, around 60 students enrolled. However, as the Stock Market Game™ is designed for teams consisting of fewer people, in this case 10-15, InvestED program leads implemented a fair and holistic selection process to select the most dedicated and apt students. Throughout the program, participants were evaluated based on their performance in homework assignments and practical assessments. Those demonstrating strong characteristics were selected and assigned roles within the team, setting the stage for an exciting learning experience throughout the duration of the simulation.

As students step into the shoes of investors, they are challenged to contemplate how they would manage a hypothetical sum of $100,000. Through the Stock Market Game™, participants gain a fundamental understanding of investing and learn how to make their money work for them. Moreover, the game serves as a valuable educational tool, reinforcing concepts taught in finance, economics, and other university subjects. One of the players, Steven Hakupyan (BSES ’26) shared: “Investing as a cultural phenomenon is not really part of the Armenian reality. I believe InvestED is an excellent start for making a positive impact and generating interest in the topic. As a person who is planning to invest, I believe InvestED is a fantastic opportunity to acquire all the tools and learn the concepts necessary to start my journey into the investing world. The best part, I believe, is the Stock Market Game, a practical way to understand how the processes work, study the market, and do experiments without the pressure of losing any real money.”

Speaking about the vision of and future plans for InvestED, David Badalyan (BSDS ’27), one of the bright students standing behind this initiative and a STRIVE Pre-U and Incubation program alumnus, noted: “The goal is to expand the program’s reach by partnering with additional universities in Armenia. We envision enhancing the experience by inviting more industry experts to share their knowledge, thus fostering valuable networking opportunities. By acting as a conduit between eager students and seasoned professionals, we aim to ignite a passion for investment banking and facilitate meaningful connections within the financial industry.”

The Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC) is a platform of the American University of Armenia (AUA) for promoting entrepreneurial education, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and startup venture incubation. EPIC provides an ecosystem for emerging entrepreneurs consisting of first-class facilities and collaborative workspace, programs and events, and a network of mentors, advisors, and investors. EPIC fosters the understanding and application of entrepreneurship in students and faculty at AUA to craft high-impact multidisciplinary ventures.