Elijah Brewer is chair of the finance department. Before joining the faculty of the Driehaus College of Business in 2005, he spent 27 years as a research economist with the Federal Reserve Bank.
What attracted you to DePaul?
The DePaul community has an entrepreneurial spirit—you can feel it. If you have an idea, you’re allowed to try it out. When I was looking for a place to teach, I imagined creating a way for university students to interact with the financial services industry in Chicago and beyond. DePaul was all for it. So we launched the Center for Financial Services.
In the center, we do three distinctive things.
First, we bring bankers together in an environment where they can articulate their views on the important issues of the day. Second, we enhance the value of education for our graduate and undergraduate students by giving them research opportunities and by promoting their scholarship to the broader community. Third, we use the center to put on conferences. That’s also good for students because it gives them a chance to rub shoulders with some very important executives in the financial services industry and banking scholars in the academy.
The thing that the center illustrates—and that the department emphasizes—is connecting our students to the real world. Yes, they need the strong foundation that comes from theory, but the theory is useless without the practical side. We want our students to be fully prepared for the world of work. In another example, we use a finance advisory board of leaders in the industry to inform us as we develop our curriculum: What skills are they looking for in the next generation of executives?
Through the center and the board, we keep the lines of communication open—the lines between DePaul and the financial services industry and between our students and potential employers. We’re not concerned about the employability of only our top students—we care about all our students. If we can do something for the ones who struggle, I feel so much better about what we’re accomplishing.
How does this pragmatism play out in the classroom?
In my class on commercial banking, I use my own research on the unintended consequences of regulation to give my students a more complete perspective on how things are done in the real world. When they read financial stories in the newspaper, they should be able to interpret what’s being said, and they should know what’s not being said or not said accurately. Financial news sheets do not educate the public; they sell stories. And some of the statements made by very important people are idiotic.
If you follow sports, you’ll hear the expression “players’ coach”—well, I’m a students’ teacher. What do I have to do to help them be successful? My door is always open to students; I’m here, I’ll listen. Other instructors in the department feel the same way—they go the extra distance for our students—that’s the sort of atmosphere we’ve developed here. When the faculty gets published, we give credit to our student research assistants. I view students as working with me, not for me: I put their names on papers as providing extraordinary research assistance. That’s of value to them because it tells an employer “this is a person who gets things done, who’s a hard worker, and who has analytical skills.”
What are your plans for the future of the department? How are you going to keep it relevant?
We’re creating two new programs: an MS in risk management and a BS is actuarial science.
We’re developing the BS program through close collaboration with the math department in the College of Science and Health, and when we get to a steady state, we expect to have 100 students in that program. If you check with the Bureau of Labor, actuary is one of the fastest-growing, best-paid professions. We can play in that sandbox.
Within the new MS program, we‘ll have a concentration in actuarial science—it’s not just people working for insurance companies. The same risk management skill set is needed in health care, business consulting, and all kinds of fields. So, in this new area, as in all our other programs, our students will get trained in the latest and best management methods and analytical tools.