HomeCover StoryGeorge Morgan: Master mentor catalyzes Pamplin careers

George Morgan: Master mentor catalyzes Pamplin careers

Photo of George Morgan speaking with student.

Jenna Parker (FIN ’17, SPAN ’17), who minored in international business in addition to majors in finance and Spanish, is grateful for the guidance she received from finance professor George Morgan.

She was a freshman student trying to plan a study-abroad trip.  “Dr. Morgan was there through every step.  From an initial office-hour meeting to the weeks leading up to my flight to Barcelona, and even through the entire program, he was always available for questions,” recalls Parker.

When she later sought his advice on career opportunities overseas, he connected her with a former student of his at GM Financial International Operations and “spent hours working with me to refine my resumé and coach me to feel interview-ready.”

Now a treasury analyst at GM Financial, Parker is beginning a two-year assignment in Latin America.  “Dr. Morgan’s ability to listen to the needs of students,” she says, “is what separates him as an outstanding professor, advisor, and mentor.”

George Morgan speaking in front of a classroom full of students

Students and alumni praise George Morgan’s commitment to helping them, whether it’s demystifying course material or offering valuable contacts after graduation. (Photo credit: Julie Benedetto)

Commitment to his students

Joseph Mills (ACIS ’17) says Morgan is always “experimenting and thinking about ways he can help students apply their knowledge.”

Mills returned to Virginia Tech this year for a master’s in public administration and policy after working briefly as a tax accountant – he missed the service-oriented work he had experienced as an undergraduate volunteer.

He is excited that his teaching assistantship enables him to work on fixed income with Morgan.  “I am interested in the stewardship of public resources and financing of public works and programs, and this opportunity to work with Dr. Morgan adds another dimension to my graduate experience that complements my long-term goals.”

Jessica Jouvelakas (FIN ’04) recalls that some years after she graduated, Morgan put her in touch with some Washington, D.C.-area investment bankers he knew who were willing to participate in informational interviews.  One of those interviews, she says, resulted in an unexpected job offer as an analyst at a boutique investment bank that ultimately led to her current role as the finance and accounting director at an educational materials company in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Her former professor “has consistently demonstrated the utmost commitment to his students,” Jouvelakas says, “whether working with them one-on-one or connecting them with valuable contacts after graduation.”

Says John Asbury (FIN ’87), president and CEO of Union Bankshares Corporation: “I have kept up with him through the years because he made a strong impression on me as a student and played an important role in influencing me to choose banking as a career.”

Investing means staying in touch

For Morgan, who is the SunTrust Professor of Finance, advising and mentoring students is as much a part of being a good teacher as good teaching.  So is staying in touch with them after graduation.

Having led study trips to Europe, Morgan believes study abroad offers many opportunities for experiential learning, as do hands-on investing programs such as BASIS, a group he has long counseled.

Indeed, Morgan, a specialist on financial institutions and markets, helped establish the student-run fixed-income fund nearly 15 years ago that has been managing $5 million of the Virginia Tech endowment.  While providing a vehicle for learning by doing, BASIS (Bond And Securities Investing by Students) also generates competitive returns for the Virginia Tech Foundation.

The group’s faculty advisor from the start, Morgan teaches a course on fixed-income analytics for its members and organizes field trips to New York City, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, North Carolina, so that students can meet and interact with finance professionals, many of them alumni.

He not only keeps in touch with many of his former students, but invites them back as speakers, workshop and case presenters, and collaborators on course development.

Bankers Asbury, Mike Clarke (FIN ’83), and Mark Moore (FIN ’85) have been among the alumni who have enthusiastically accepted, returning to campus to provide career advising sessions and to encourage the study of banking.  “That kind of connection between alumni and students is invaluable,” Morgan says.  Their talks may echo some of the points he himself makes in class, he says, but hearing first-hand from industry veterans reinforces the ideas.  In addition, “the interaction allows students to see career paths that are attractive and that promote the growth of the economy.”

Connecting students with alumni

Morgan delights in helping to connect students with alumni as well as alumni with each other.  It tickles him that he helped bring together Clarke and Asbury, who ended up forging a newsmaking merger of their banks (see cover story).

He has long admired their determination, business knowledge, and desire to help Virginia Tech, he says.  “The benefits Mike and John could bring back to my students have always been apparent.  And I enjoy learning from industry insiders who can inform my approach to my classes.”

Ever on the lookout for new ways of alumni engagement with teaching and learning, Morgan says that experiential learning programs do take more time to plan, create, and implement than classroom courses. “Rules and procedures have to be in place before anyone gets their hands on any money. Relationships outside the department and university have to be built, legal issues pondered, student roles established.”

Given their real-world nature, program management is also more challenging.  “Unlike textbooks, the instructor does not know what is on the next page or when it will get turned,” he says. “You can have a lesson plan, but often there is some problem or development you had not anticipated that has to be addressed.”

Real-life problems, he adds, don’t tend to come with all the information needed for a solution. Unexpected economic downturns and policy changes, approval delays, conduct and Honor Code issues — Morgan has encountered those challenges and more. “Experiential learning takes you into a different world — one that students will face when they graduate.”

Finance department head Vijay Singal says Morgan “has been extremely innovative in creating new experiences for students,” initiatives that take “a considerable amount of time, dedication, and perseverance.”  Singal adds: “George is a true scholar and educator in all respects.  He strives to do everything right, right for the students and the institution.”

Left to right: seniors Katie Kullman, Quillin Gaffey, and Olivia Hsu, and junior Grant Griffith are members of BASIS, the student-run fixed-income fund that manages $5 million of the Virginia Tech endowment. Morgan helped establish to group and has been its faculty advisor from the start. (Photo credit: Julie Benedetto)

Promoting an evolving field

Reflecting on how teaching finance has changed over the years, Morgan, a 35-year veteran of Virginia Tech, identifies two developments: “The volatility of the financial markets has made it more challenging for faculty to stay current. And the media — especially social media, movies, and videos — have offered students a wealth of misinformation that is easily accessible and difficult to counteract.”

Morgan has sought to do what he can to promote financial education and understanding among the news media and the broader public. He has been generous with his time and expertise, answering reporters’ questions on current events and explaining technical concepts in depth.

As for students, Morgan says the department continues to draw a core group of fine students and even “some spectacular students who could go to any university or graduate school in the country.”

But, in this age of instant Internet information and gratification, he also discerns diminished attention spans and intellectual curiosity, and a decline in financial and economic literacy, particularly understanding of banks and markets. That businesses, including financial institutions, seem to be viewed as “the source of problems and having no role in solutions” is also a concern.

To promote more interest in banking as a study area and career, Singal tasked Morgan with redesigning the banking option for finance majors. Renamed “risk management and banking,” the option will include a new credit analysis course (taught this spring) and an unusual capstone experience for BASIS-like hands-on learning in bank lending.

“Students don’t fully understand how integral banking is to a high-functioning economy that generates jobs and wealth for people,” Morgan says. “They have not seen the complexity of the problems that have to be solved nor the consulting-type relationships with corporate clientele. With its focus on certification, credit skills, hands-on learning, and connections with alumni, the new option can change all that.”

Its graduates would be particularly well-equipped for the new opportunities expected to result from the merger between Clarke’s Access National and Asbury’s Union Bankshares — “local and regional openings and career paths that we have not had since banks based in Virginia and North Carolina were acquired or moved to places with less connection to the area,” he says. “The loosening of restrictions on interstate branching also diminished banking opportunities for our students, as decision-making moved away.”

Catalyzing fulfilling careers

Clarke and other alumni, Morgan notes, have played a critical role in developing the option’s experiential learning dimensions. “I could not have made the program so attractive without their extensive commitment.”

And many alumni and former students would say they might not have forged such fulfilling careers without his extensive commitment to them.

“I am forever grateful to have been a student in his banking class and am constantly in awe of the tremendous support and opportunities he provides so many students year in and year out,” Jessica Jouvelakas says. “I have had many professors and mentors over the years but none as kind, humble, and innovative as Dr. Morgan.”

– Sookhan Ho