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College of Business and Economics
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive MS3161
Moscow, Idaho 83844-3161
Phone: (208) 885-6478
Toll free: (800) 960-3033
Email: cbe@uidaho.edu

Mark Ackerman

Mark Ackerman

Leading Indicator: Barker Capital Management and Trading Program
An Experiential Learning Program That Pays Off
Written by Maria Picone
This is not Monopoly money. Trading thousands of dollars in the University of Idaho's Barker Trading Room is not something Mark Ackerman takes lightly.

The College of Business and Economics' Barker Capital Management and Trading Program is the only program in the country that provides students with hands-on experience trading derivatives portfolios with real capital.

Rotchford Barker, a successful trader at the Chicago Board of Trade for 30 years, funded the high-tech trading room, which includes a 60-inch plasma screen configured as a smart board for lectures and presentations and connected by satellite to market and business news feeds. The room also includes a Bloomberg Terminal, seven trading stations with real-time data feeds from the major exchanges, and multiple platforms for trading and data analysis.

Ackerman, a junior in finance from Glenburnie, Md., visited the University of Idaho campus at the invitation of a friend who lived in the northwest. The sophisticated Barker Program sealed the deal.

“The Barker Program clinched my decision to come to the University of Idaho because it is the only university in the world that allows students to trade an actual, real-life portfolio, including financial derivatives like options and futures,” Ackerman said. “The program still is relatively young, so I feel fortunate that I found out about it.”

After graduating high school, Ackerman spent six years in the Navy. During his military service, he completed a year and a half of engineering studies at the U.S. Naval Academy.

“I switched from electrical engineering to business because business gives you a greater ability to affect positive change in the lives of your employees, business partners and everyone else you interact with,” Ackerman said. “A business degree is more portable and entrepreneurial, which caters to my desire to travel and be self-sufficient.”

He now spends many early mornings in the Trading Room tracking overnight results from the Asian and European markets and preparing for the opening of major U.S. markets.

Ackerman said the Trading Room allows him and his fellow program classmates to have access to great resources, such as a Bloomberg Terminal – a data and news source used by Wall Street traders. “The experience is priceless on resumes,” Ackerman said.

The Barker Program admitted its first students beginning in the fall of 2004. The program consists of a two course sequence that builds knowledge and trading skills, and an advanced trading seminar for students who are actively trading funded portfolios. The focus of the program is to introduce students to trading, risk management strategies, and quantitative modeling as well as markets.

The program is designed for juniors and seniors, although with instructor permission Ackerman began the program as a sophomore. Once the courses are complete, students apply for a position to trade a funded account owned by a non-profit LLC. The program is intended to be a learning experience, not necessarily a profit-center, and any losses are covered by the program, while profits are reinvested in the endowment to fund operating expenses and, eventually, student scholarships.

Terrance Grieb, Barker Program director, said the biggest benefit for students is the live, real-time laboratory for learning about financial markets.

“Not only do students have to move beyond the textbook to apply their knowledge firsthand, they do so with real money at risk,” Grieb said. “This is an amazing format for learning not only about the behavior of financial markets, but about your own behavior as an investor as well.”

Ackerman said it is mentally challenging to stick with the strategies involved in trading when the rest of the market is moving against you, but said that is often right before the biggest payoff occurs.

“The most rewarding part of the Barker Program occurs when a good trade results from hard work,” Ackerman said. “There is an intellectual part to trading which requires rigorous study of recent and historic trends, as well as pricing formulas, which often involve a bit of math and graphing.”

“The most important thing the Barker Program has given me so far is the invaluable experience I’ve gained from working with veteran traders and faculty, some of whom bring decades of industry experience with them,” Ackerman said. “That is experience which can not be learned from a book.”