Business students in top 25 of global investment competition

January 22, 2019

Detroit Mercy student Matthew Vangalen poses for a photo in front of a screen displaying the stock market.Three Detroit Mercy business students placed in the top 25 in the world in the fall 2018 ETF Global Investment Challenge.

Given the market volatility over the past several months, students from Detroit Mercy’s College of Business Administration have demonstrated exceptional skill and talent in securing investment returns that veteran portfolio managers would envy.

Matthew Vangalen, Spiro Pliakos and Alexa Yonan competed against students from 253 schools in 41 countries and five continents. Vangalen, Pliakos and Yonan placed 13th, 14th and 15th in the world respectively. During the bear market this past fall, these students achieved investment returns of 7.75 percent, 7.70 percent and 6.99 percent. Omid Sabbaghi, associate professor of Finance and director of Graduate Business Programs, worked closely with students during the competition. 

In addition, while Detroit Mercy students were competing globally in the investment competition using simulated portfolios, all three were managing a real portfolio — the Mercy and Jesuit Student Investment Capital fund (Majestic Fund).

During their management of this fund, they met quarterly with an investment advisory council composed of industry practitioners and carefully watched the performance of the market. As a result of their work, students developed the technical skills necessary for managing investments as well as the presentation skills required to work successfully with clients and professionals.  The College of Business Administration’s Investment Advisory Council currently includes Mike Kirchner, CEO of Allied Group Insurance, John Donnelly and Jim Penman of Donnelly, Penman and Partners, and Joe Berkowski and Ina Fernandez, CEO of Fern Capital.

“Our emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning is clearly giving these students an advantage for competing internationally,” said Joseph Eisenhauer, dean of the College of Business Administration, “and they have used the tools we provide to great success.”

Sabbaghi believes that the immersive nature of Detroit Mercy’s Financial Markets Lab combined with interactive classroom discussions helped students to succeed at the international level.

“Experiential learning is an effective complement for student success,” he said. “In addition to impacting our students’ proficiency in technology applications, Detroit Mercy's College of Business Administration also impacts the community, the academic profession, and the business world.”

Detroit Mercy student Alexa Yonan poses for a photo in front of a screen displaying the stock market.For students, this competition, along with the chance to manage a real investment fund, underscore why Detroit Mercy is so different than other institutions of higher education.

“It was a great opportunity for students like me to learn how to manage a portfolio and to get a taste of what investing truly entails,” said Alexa Yonan, a student in the five-year MBA program concentrating in International Business and Business Intelligence. “When our class taught by Dr. Sabbaghi entered the challenge, I knew I was in good hands.”

Vangalen, a senior Business major with a concentration in Finance and captain of the Detroit Mercy Men’s Lacrosse Team, said that this competition allows students to use the knowledge gained from the Fundamental of Investments course and apply it to a real world simulator.

“With the generous donations from our investors, our class was able to research investment options and present our findings in front of the board,” he said. “Both experiences were very valuable and showed us how applicable the information learned in the course was. I really enjoyed the ETF global challenge because it allowed us to compete with similar students from around the country.” 

This is not the first time Detroit Mercy students performed well during the ETF competition. In 2016, a team of Detroit Mercy business students placed 5th in the world out of 468 student teams from 30 countries in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Group Trading Challenge. And in 2017, four Detroit Mercy business students individually placed among the world’s top 25 performers in the ETF Global Investment Challenge, collectively outperforming all 220 other universities from 25 countries.

To learn more about the ETF competition and results, please visit

For more about Detroit Mercy’s College of Business Administration, please visit