You can describe the energy of the people and the magnitude of a place like Manhattan, but you get a wholly different feeling when you find yourself there in the middle of it all. That difference is a big part of the rationale for why groups of UVA students have been going on faculty- and staff-led trips to New York City for the UVA Finance Trek since January of 1996.
Tom Fitch, McIntire School of Commerce Associate Dean for Career & Corporate Engagement, has been a leader on the trek since the beginning. Before investment banking internships were as prevalent as they are now with students, Fitch says the visits to firms in and around Wall Street were often relied upon as a recruiting strategy by the hosts, while simultaneously, they served another very important purpose: “We saw the benefit of exposing students to financial firms and life in New York, and networking with alumni in the city.”
The brainchild of a combined effort of career services professionals in several offices including McIntire, the School of Engineering, and the University, the jointly managed trip invited approximately 40 students from all UVA schools. A few years ago, administrative changes to the trek have included shifting the management to a combination of the McIntire School’s Commerce Career Services team and McIntire Finance faculty, and to include a pedagogical component to the trek. Moreover, in order to better consider early recruiting practices, the team shifted to taking second-year student participants instead of third-years.
Regarding placements for internships, Fitch says that among the 41 trekkers on the most recent New York trip, more than 10 have already secured positions for the summer between their third and fourth years, while a high number of others are in the final stages of interviews and currently waiting on offers. “All this shows that finance firms are anxious to find good talent early. The recruiting timeline requires students to engage, network, and learn about different functions of finance early in order to make career decisions,” he says.
The annual trek to New York has also created a virtuous cycle of sorts: Alumni who took part in the trek when they were students at UVA now host the trekkers at firms where they work, helping to replicate the learning experience for each new generation of second-years.
“As someone who has been involved and experienced the students’ enthusiasm during the trek, it confirms the benefit of expanding the opportunity to apply academic knowledge and genuine interest in an industry to a real-world activity,” says Fitch. “For many students, it’s been their first trip to New York, interacting with professionals in fast-paced firms and hearing from alumni how they’ve grown in their career paths.”
Finance Comes Alive
Since 2009, McIntire Professor David C. Smith estimates that he’s been on at least 10 treks, overseeing and organizing the trips in collaboration with Commerce Career Services. Though COVID disrupted plans and halted travel in 2021 and 2022, he was excited to be able to return with interested students in early 2023. During the last five years or so, the trek has been restructured to stress a larger learning component, with each of the companies visited seeking Smith’s approval on a finance topic before students arrive.
“We began asking each bank we visited to teach something about finance, in addition to having each firm do their own pitch,” Smith explains. “That’s been a huge success. It makes each bank more interesting when they are teaching something to their expertise—and the students learn something more about finance.”
Smith’s Commerce faculty colleague, Professor Mike Gallmeyer, who has now been part of four treks himself, has been enthusiastic about accompanying students to financial companies. “It was great to see all the energy from them as well as from our alums. The trek is a great way to make the prospects of a finance career come alive,” he says, likening the trek to an abbreviated study-abroad experience, as it “provides a 360-degree view of life working in the finance industry in New York. The students can get a better feel if this is right for them in ways that we can never convey in the classroom.”
That significance of being in New York makes an impact in a number of ways. Smith notes that second-years learn a fair amount of finance, which helps them build knowledge, and as they visit investment banks, they learn more about each bank directly from the people who work there. “There’s nothing like being onsite at these places to get a feel for what a career at these firms might be like,” he says, detailing the breadth of those they interact with at the visits.
“Students get to meet UVA alumni at all stages of their careers at each bank,” Smith adds, noting the extremely high volume of UVA and McIntire graduates who hold New York finance positions. “It means the students get to meet lots of folks who were in their shoes at one time. And all these alumni love UVA and love helping UVA students.”
Last, and by no means least, for students interested in finance, Smith knows that simply being in Manhattan can make a long-lasting impression like no other trip can. “It’s the finance capital of the world and is also such a fun city to visit. For some students, it’s their first trip to New York, and even for others who have been there before, it is just a great experience to be there together as pre-professionals,” he says.
Alumni Returning to the Trek
For three days in early January 2023, the trek took students to Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, GLC Advisors, Guggenheim, Harris Williams, Houlihan Lokey, Jefferies, Morgan Stanley, and UBS, along with an optional UVA alumni panel on current events in media and finance held at the Yale Club.
Tim Webb (McIntire ’03), Managing Director at Harris Williams, happily welcomed students to his firm, as he believes it was his time on the trek that put him on the path to where he is today. “I did not know a lot about investment banking, Wall Street, or New York City when I went on the Finance Trek over 20 years ago. The whole experience was eye-opening and exciting for me and the start of my journey in investment banking,” he says. “It really helped me better understand the different cultures amongst the banks and prepare for the interviews.”
For UBS Investment Banking Analyst Alston Hackney (McIntire ’22), who took part in hosting students this year, the trek was a seminal moment for his own nascent career journey. “It was probably the most helpful experience I had as I began to navigate the somewhat confusing internship recruiting process,” he says, pointing out how it facilitated numerous opportunities for him to meet with different people across different banks working in a variety of roles. “It also emphasized the strength and depth of the UVA and McIntire network, which was powerful to see at such an early stage in my academic career. The trek was definitely a driving factor for what led me to pursue a career in investment banking.”
Hackney, who is one of multiple UVA alumni at UBS, joined with his fellow Hoos to spearhead a stronger relationship between the University and UBS. “After meeting with the group to discuss our strategy for the upcoming recruiting cycle, I suggested we reach out about participating in the New York Finance Trek. We wanted to be a part of that trip because it provided a great opportunity to meet students in person, and it allowed students the opportunity to see the UBS offices and tour the trading floor,” he says.
Students heard from three different Global Banking divisions, with speakers from UBS’s Global Markets, Global Banking, and Research areas, who each gave a brief presentation about what the group does and how they fit into UBS’s broader operations, and then held a Q&A session. “As a past participant, I knew it was an easy way to make a meaningful impact on how students look at their different career options,” Hackney says.
Hackney’s fellow Class of ’22 colleague, Braedon Kehoe, took part in this year’s trek as a host at Houlihan Lokey, and is similarly adamant that the trek played a major role in shaping his professional choices and career as a Financial Restructuring Analyst. “It was during the trek that I was exposed to restructuring and was able to meet representatives of my firm,” he says. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the trek; it was very influential for my career.”
Kehoe says that his firm is a perennial host for the trek, and he was eager to participate. After hearing an overview of the firm and the group, students were walked through a successful case on Caesars Palace, and later, they explained how restructuring is different from other types of investment banking, discussing the game theory dynamic of negotiating with multiple classes of creditors, and the tools that bankers have to help alleviate financial distress. “It was awesome to be on the other side of it, helping students gain exposure to restructuring and answering questions they have about the field,” he says. “It was a full circle kind of moment this time around.”
Since Webb recognizes how helpful the trek was in starting his own career, and credits UVA with helping him in his success thus far, he wanted Harris Williams to be a part of the trek, giving him the opportunity to give back to students. “I always enjoy my interactions with students, and it is amazing to see how much stronger they are today. I don’t think I could compete,” he says, explaining that having the students in house offers “a great opportunity to showcase Harris Williams and highlight the firm’s culture.” Though Harris Williams is based in Richmond, VA, the global firm “competes with the New York banks every day,” Webb says.
The trek also allows him to demonstrate how his firm is unique and why he’s chosen to build his career there.
“When students visit Harris Williams, we cover the nuts and bolts of investment banking as well as who we are as a firm. We walk them through an M&A deal and explain how we help clients unlock value in their business. All the while, we highlight the role the analyst plays to give the students a sense of what to expect should they decide to pursue this career path,” he says, emphasizing their deep client relationships, the longstanding tenure of so many of their professionals, and their commitment to mentorship. “Hopefully, the most important thing the students take away from the visit is who we are as a firm and the value we place on operating with collaboration, trust, and integrity.”
A Spectacular Student Experience
The students we spoke to were ready for what the trek had to offer, keen to learn about investment banking, to get exposure to the finance industry and its career opportunities, and to spend time in New York.
“I knew it would be a great way to expand my breadth of knowledge about the careers in finance that are available to me,” says Jack Omohundro (A&S ’25). “By meeting with nearly a dozen firms over the course of the week, I gained a much deeper understanding of the way these businesses operate. The trip was a fantastic way to immerse myself in the New York finance environment, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Claire Brodish (McIntire ’25) was enthusiastic about networking with alumni and moved by the strong UVA presence at the various firms. It gave her the insights she needed to decisively chart a path for herself: “Through the information I gained about the recruitment process and the insight provided by the analysts I networked with, I hope to pursue a career in investment banking. The trek helped solidify my decision to study Finance.”
Amanda Low (McIntire ’25) also found connecting with UVA alumni and learning from them at their place of business to be vital. “I particularly valued the chance to gain a firsthand perspective on the day-to-day life of various financial firms and found it fascinating to discover firms that particularly resonated with me based on their culture and exciting deals,” she says, insisting that the experience provided crucial accounts about the diverse skills and qualifications essential for success in various roles, information that has informed both her academic and professional trajectory.
While Katie DiPaolo (A&S ’25) also felt she gained from learning about the differences of each participating firm, the face-to-face interactions were key: “I really enjoyed visiting each office in person and getting a feel for the personalities of the people at the firm firsthand. Having the opportunity to converse with so many members of each firm gave me the opportunity to expand my network. I have already been invited to interview with firms that I visited in New York and was given an opportunity to join Harris Williams Women’s Leadership Summit,” she says, noting that she went to Richmond, VA, for a two-day summit hosted by the firm in February.
Josh Novick (McIntire ’25) credits the presentations and presence of knowledgeable alums at each firm for creating a great experience, especially as they gave honest accounts of their lives through their stories. He is encouraged to use them as resources in the recruitment process and to seek their guidance. Yet Novick says his favorite moments came from seeing how happy the alums were to see Smith, Gallmeyer, and Fitch. “I believe wholeheartedly that their and McIntire’s extraordinary impact and passion helped the alums get into their industries all along,” he says.
Now involved as an alum on the other side of the trek experience, Hackney believes that the trek is consequential both for the broad types of banks represented and the many networking opportunities students can build. “To expand your network both across UVA Alumni and current UVA students pursuing similar career paths is incredibly useful,” he says.
“The trek allows second-years to understand both where they will fit best as a young professional and where they want to begin their career,” adds Webb.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without the trek, and I’m incredibly grateful to Professor Smith and those who help organize it every year,” says Kehoe. “It’s one of the differentiators for McIntire, and I hope to see the trek continue for years to come.”