The power of positive expectations often can change a person's destiny. Just ask Elijah Brewer III, chair of the Department of Finance at the Driehaus College of Business, who seeks to build confidence within DePaul business students by mixing opportunity and promise.
"We've created an atmosphere at DePaul where students are given the opportunity to succeed, no matter what they want to do within the realm of finance," says Brewer. "Our faculty go the extra distance for our students. We light that spark that allows them to see themselves being successful. And we offer them practical skills and ways to be successful."
A Winding Path to Success
Elijah Brewer got his own taste of elevated expectations when he was a young boy growing up in Mississippi.
"I was sitting around the breakfast table with my dad, and he said to me, 'Brother, you can be the president of this country,'" Brewer says. Such high expectations seemed far-fetched at that time, when many African-Americans in the South were not allowed to vote, or even use public restrooms. But Brewer says his parents saw education as a way out for their children. "Even though my parents did not graduate from high school, they encouraged us to be the best we could be."
In the early 1950s, Brewer's father moved the family to the West Side of Chicago. The neighborhood around 16th and Kedzie was known for its rough and tumble atmosphere. Despite this, Brewer remained focused on success. To get a leg up on his college-prep studies, he spent each summer during his high school years taking the necessary courses that would help satisfy college admission requirements. At that time he wanted to do something in the sciences.
At Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, he took his first biology class during the beginning of his junior year. "Let's just say the class didn't agree with me," Brewer says, laughing. He quickly switched his major to economics, and his path to success was set.
Brewer went on to earn an MS in Financial Management at the Alfred P. Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and then pursued a PhD at MIT. He left in 1977 before completing all the requirements for his doctoral degree, taking a job at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Brewer's career at the Fed began with preparing briefing materials for the Federal Open Market Committee meetings, where Fed Governors and bank presidents made key decisions about interest rates and growth concerning the nation's money supply.
In 1985, he wrote his PhD dissertation under the direction of the late MIT professor Franco Modogliani, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize In Economics that year. At the Fed, Brewer rose from an economist to senior economist to assistant vice president in the Economic Research Department, where he oversaw antitrust analyses of bank holding company applications. His research topics included interest rate risk management, balancing risk and capital, and understanding the effects of derivative usage on the performance of commercial banks. He worked at the Federal Reserve for 27 years.
In 2005, he joined the faculty of DePaul's finance department, and has served as finance department chair for the last two years.
The Future of Finance Education
Brewer says DePaul's finance department is focused on helping students realize their potential through practical programs and real-world exposure to the finance industry. In addition to an undergraduate major in finance, the department offers MBA concentration in finance and three specialized master's degrees – an MS in Finance, MS in Computational Finance and an MS in Wealth Management. Plans are underway to add an MS in Risk Management and BS in Actuarial Sciences, he says, which will help students learn the skills and knowledge needed to tackle current risk management issues within the finance community.
Both undergraduate and graduate students have access to the department's Finance Lab. The lab features Bloomberg Terminals and other industry-current technology, which deliver real-time financial service data and company information to students, as well as newswire feeds, trading platforms, portfolio analytics and risk management software.
In its quest to provide real-world finance industry access for students, the Department of Finance also is the umbrella for several centers and institutes, including:
These centers offer students practical skills workshops, as well as networking and research opportunities with the broader financial community. Industry outreach events include an annual risk management conference held at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago; executive-in-residence forums, which invite leaders such as Sheila Bair, former chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, to lecture and speak on campus; and a newly launched cyber risk conference.
Brewer also hopes to start a biannual journal that offers practical advice to finance leaders about topics crucial to their operations, including cyber security.
The future looks bright for DePaul's finance department and the students it serves, says Brewer, who remains committed to offering students the foundation and skills necessary to reach their potential, no matter their circumstances.
"All you need is someone to give you an opportunity and just get out of your way," Brewer says. "That's what we do for our students. We offer them real-world tools to help them succeed."