UCCI team wins international research challenge

24

Feb

UCCI team wins international research challenge

For the third year running, the University College of the Cayman Islands has won the Atlantic islands region championships of the CFA Research Challenge, a competition that draws over 1,000 colleges and universities worldwide.

A team of four UCCI students faced off Saturday morning against other teams from the University of the Bahamas, the University of the West Indies, Barbados and Jamaica’s University of Technology in an online contest. When the digital dust had settled, UCCI was victorious. The team will now move on to compete against winners of regional contests across the Americas, April 15-16.

Kadeshah Swearing, an assistant professor at UCCI is the mentor for the team and has been for the past seven years. This year’s win was more emotional, she said.

“It was an amazing moment,” she said.

One of the advantages of the online competition was that the UCCI team had an audience. The second-round competition is usually held in Miami. Not many UCCI people attend. But this year, the on-campus presence of the team, drew a crowd, some of whom were instrumental in helping when the internet connection faltered. Halfway through its 10-minute presentation, the UCCI team was told it had no audio connection. The seven international judges could not hear the team members and they were told they would have to start over.

Swearing said everyone pitched in to help get things back on track and praised President and CEO Stacy McAfee, who dashed to her office, despite being in high heels, to retrieve an external web camera that solved the last of some technical hiccups.

The added drama made the win even more emotional.

When the judges declared UCCI the winner, after 30 minutes of deliberation, “My knees gave way and I literally hit the floor,” Swearing said. “I think I blacked out for a second. I looked up and I had tears in my eyes. The students had tears in their eyes. Everyone was screaming. There was a lot of hugging and it was real intense.”

Team members Najee Mais, the team captain, Zhane Miller, Shakira Ebanks and Giveannie Simpson, and their industry mentor, Jennson Wong celebrated with Swearing in the rest of the crowd.  

The CFA challenges – there is a companion event focused on ethics -- are the only international academic competitions UCCI participates in. For the years she has been involved, Swearing said, the team has always made the second round. Winning three times in a row gives UCCI some prestige.

“I think it speaks to the strength of our programs,” she said. “It exemplifies what we’ve been trying to tell the community about the potential that exists within UCCI.”

The UCCI students are often competing against graduate students at much larger colleges and universities. Saturday’s victory put the university among the top 54 competing schools worldwide, Swearing said.

“It was such an exciting competition,” said UCCI President and CEO Stacy McAfee. “Watching the joy of everyone who gathered in the room -- students, faculty and staff -- and the care that our industry colleagues also present had for UCCI students was a very special moment. We are so thrilled for the team and its accomplishments.

“Watching Dr. Swearing’s masterful coaching and holistic support during a very stressful time, I would like to commend her and the faculty and staff who have taught these students and nurtured their confidence along the way,” McAfee added. “These types of experiential learning opportunities under the direction of an excellent faculty member and industry mentors are emblematic of college experiences that set students on a path for success.”

Swearing said the contest requires the students not only to work hard, but to sacrifice extracurricular and social activities, such as spending time with friends, or even relaxing during the holidays.

Team captain Mais said when Swearing recruited him, she told him it would be difficult.

She mentioned it could be a lot of work, but that the end itself would be worthwhile,” Mais said. “The toughest part was the amount of analysis and research.”

Each team is tasked with analyzing the prospects of a given company. This year it was Air Liquide, a French-based industrial gas company. All the Atlantic Islands teams researched the company and met with its officials in an online forum.

The teams had to prepare a report on the outlook for Air Liquide over the next several years and make a recommendation on whether to invest in the company. The analysis requires forecasting how the company will perform as much as 10 years into the future. Students then make a buy/sell determination on what they estimate the stock will be worth a year from now.

“They look at major risks and the likelihood of those risks happening,” Swearing said. “They also have to estimate the impact of those risks and come up with ways to mitigate them.”

Siddhant Jain Jaiswal is an audit manager at Ernst and Young, and coordinates the annual research challenge for Cayman. He said students get real-world experience as they assume the role of a research analyst. It provides students with hands-on mentoring and intensive training in financial analysis and professional ethics, which, in turn, makes them more attractive to finance companies.

“It is a pretty big thing to have under your belt,” he said.

Swearing said the team has a lot to do in the coming weeks to prepare for the next round, which will also be held online. In each competition, the team gives a 10-minute presentation on their research findings and then takes questions from a panel of judges for another 10 minutes. Their research has to be up to date.

Although the team recommended buying Air Liquide in its initial submission -- based upon a projected one-year increase in value of 28% -- the market is constantly changing. Their next presentation will be based on the prospects of the company’s stock on April 15.

The process can be grueling, Swearing said, adding that UCCI’s year-to-year success is a result of the demands she places upon the students.

“I set the bar really high for them and I expect them to meet it,” she said. “We’re willing to work with you, as long as you are willing to push. If you are not,  we’re kicking you off the team and finding another student. We butt heads a lot.

There are lots of tears, lots of motivating and remotivating students when they think they can’t do it.”

In the end, she said, they appreciate what they’ve learned.

“There’s almost nothing you can throw at them that they think they can’t manage,” she said of those that complete the challenge. “These students pretty much remain on the President’s List going forward. For the last five years, at least, every valedictorian has been in the CFA Research Challenge.”

And does she ever take the recommendations the teams come up with? If Air Liquide appreciates by 28% in the next year, it seems like a no-brainer to scoop up some of the stock.

“I bought none,” she said with a laugh, adding that is no different from other years. “I don’t think any of the students has ever bought either.”

It’s not about the money, she said, it’s about the challenge.

If you are interested in starting your success story at UCCI, visit our website at ucci.edu.ky or set up an appointment with our admissions team by calling 623-0567.