Ted Orben, a junior at Brown University concentrating in environmental studies and economics, was looking for an opportunity to strengthen his finance and leadership skills during the summer when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Columbia’s Business Edge program, conducted online over the course of 6 weeks, offered Orben exactly what he needed -- flexibility with remote work, an opportunity to network with professors who are professionals in their fields, and extra skills that have already proven useful during the recruitment.
We sat down with Orben to learn more about his experience with the program, his biggest takeaways, and hopes for the near future.
What were you doing before you joined the business edge program and came to Columbia last summer?
This past summer was a bit of a weird time. I had an internship planned, which fell through due to the pandemic. Ultimately, when I got to the end of my school year in May, I didn't have a clear idea of what I wanted to do in the summer but knew that if I was able to continue learning -- especially technical finance learning -- it would be really valuable as I would go into recruiting in the fall.
At Brown, we don't have technical finance classes aside from corporate finance and financial accounting. So outside of the few classes that I can take here, I really wanted to do something that would bolster my technical finance education, and Business Edge was the answer for me.
What drew you to Columbia and the business edge program in particular?
I have a mentor in the sustainable finance world who was telling me about what he did over his summers. Aside from internships, the things that he looked for also included conferences, webinars and other resources. He had mentioned that he did a business program at Columbia, so when I ran out of options this summer, I immediately remembered what he told me a couple of years ago and decided to look into it. I just searched for the business program at Columbia University, found the website, and as I was looking through, it made a lot of sense to me. And then I reached back out to my mentor and told him about my plans to join the program. As it turns out, Business Edge was the exact program he did when he was in college.
What was your experience like online?
The program is six weeks long, which is not a lot of time, but when it's Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. every morning, it's quite a bit of time and it was nice to have a consistent commitment routine. For me, being in the same time zone as most of the professors, the timing worked out very well. Speaking of the professors, they were all really incredible. Among the things I learned the most from the program were the career development workshops that helped develop skills such as negotiation tactics, public speaking, especially over Zoom, which was unbelievable. The professors were very distinguished but were always very humble about being renowned in their field.
Because it was remote, I was able to learn from home in Connecticut. I got to spend time with my family in Long Island and some friends out in Nantucket while doing the program, which was really nice.
What do you think your favorite courses were or favorite modules?
I went in with an initial idea of what they would be and came out with a completely different idea. I think Benedict Okoh’s course is phenomenal. He taught the corporate finance modules and was very funny and personable. During the summer, one of my grandparents had a heart attack; I mentioned it to him during an office hours call, and two days later he emailed me, checking in and seeing how everything was. So he was an unexpected connection in an online world, which was really cool.
How does the work you did at Columbia fold into your degree at Brown? How are the credits viewed?
I didn't know this when I decided I wanted to do Business Edge, but halfway through the program, I discovered I could earn credit for it. Brown is pretty well known for not allowing credit from AP exams and other Universities. So I decided to give it a try and emailed the head of the economics department, and now I'm getting credit for financial accounting, which is great.
How would you say what you learned will help you in that goal?
I've been going through recruiting for banking the past couple of weeks. When I was asked the initial question, “Tell us a little about yourself,” I would start off my interview by saying that I studied environmental studies and economics and supported my liberal arts education with technical finance education, too. I was able to back that up and justify it by saying that I enrolled in a program at Columbia University called Business Edge. And usually, that would capture the interviewers’ attention. It has also really helped to be able to reinforce my technical finance education with an amazing program.
Do you have any advice for other people who might be considering the program?
In terms of the experience that you get out of it, it is remarkable. If you want to learn more about finance and even want to go into it in any way outside of college, this program is the answer -- it teaches the necessary finance, leadership and presentation skills involved in many roles that people will pursue. If you don't have a plan for the summer, I think there's no downside in doing this program and it is going to be a positive experience for you.
Learn more about the Business Edge program here.