April 25, 2022
By Adrienne Egolf
Rollins’ Women in Finance program is helping close the gender gap in the financial field by connecting women with industry mentors, internships, and long-term career prospects.
When Izadora Correa Bongiolo ’22 was growing up, she never imagined a career in finance. Now, she describes the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as her happy place. That’s thanks, in large part, to her experience in Rollins’ Women in Finance program.
The double major in economics and international business and a cohort of seven other women visited New York City toward the end of last year for a field study as part of the program, where they not only experienced the Stock Exchange firsthand and toured the Financial District, but had the opportunity to meet with alumni whose careers are soaring everywhere from JP Morgan Chase to Alexander McQueen.
Launched in 2019, Women in Finance provides one-on-one counsel through the Office of Business Advising in addition to mentoring through Rollins’ Crummer Graduate School of Business, alumni networking, site visits, Excel training, internships, and a semester-long, independent study course. But, of course, it’s about so much more.
“It’s just very encouraging,” says Bongiolo, “to see women in leadership positions and really enjoying what they’re doing.”
Now in its third year, Women in Finance is working to connect more Rollins women with passions they may not even have discovered yet.
A key pillar of the Women in Finance program is meaningful mentorship. Each student is paired with a mentor with high-level experience in finance and the financial services industry, often a Rollins alum.
“I could just reach out to her at any time,” remembers Sara Gonzalez ’23, an international business major who was part of the inaugural cohort. Gonzalez was paired with Leigh Cleeveley ’07, associate advisor and operations manager at Financial Harvest Wealth Advisors, and says meeting in person once a month for coffee or lunch has proved valuable as she prepares for graduation.
“She gives me the best advice—things like help with my resume and cover letter, but also overall career advice, like how to navigate the workplace when it’s more male-dominated.”
Bongiolo agrees. She says learning from a woman with a background similar to her own has made all the difference on her journey.
“One, she’s a woman. Two, she’s an international woman,” says Bongiolo of her alumni mentor Rasha Mesharafa ’19MBA, a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley. “To see someone like me succeed in finance as a woman, figuring out and building her career here, was amazing. It’s nice to have that one person you can count on who wants to help you.”
According to program director Tres Loch ’06 ’08MBA, the ultimate goal of Women in Finance is to prepare students between the second and third year to secure and complete a summer internship in the field of finance and to explore career pathways post-graduation.
“Nationally, women hold just 18 percent of the jobs in finance, which is even less than STEM fields,” he says, citing a study from the UC Davis Graduate School of Management. This, he says, is why a program like Women in Finance is necessary to shift the imbalance and help women from all backgrounds and majors explore the field.
“The best part of the program is that you learn both inside and outside the classroom,” says Stephanie Block ’22, a double major in international business and Spanish who will start a position with global financial services organization Macquarie Group in Jacksonville after graduation. “You learn how to network and how to dress professionally. You get all this knowledge you wouldn’t learn in a typical finance class.”
The commitment to placing students on a successful pathway comes with rigor.
“It’s a really tough program—which I’m grateful for,” says Bongiolo. “It’s not easy. You have to work really hard. But it’s really good for those networking opportunities and what you learn. I feel like I’m extremely professional compared to my friends who didn’t go through these experiences.”
Confidence in Action
In October 2021, the cohort traveled to New York City for an immersive field study where they met with alumni working in finance, conducted in-person meetings with Wall Street firms, and walked the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
“The schedule was jam-packed. We did so many site visits,” says Block. “We met with private equity firms, people working in the field of cryptocurrency—all these different areas of finance. I got to really see what it’s like to work in finance in New York City.”
Gonzalez says the opportunity to ask honest questions—like what hours do you work and do you like your job—helped her visualize a future in finance. When she graduates, she’s bound for a position with JP Morgan in London, and her trip to New York City was pivotal.
“It was the moment when I realized that I could actually do this,” she says.
Knowledge is Power
In a field like finance, where women are underrepresented, this kind of practical, real-world experience can be game-changing for students.
“Growing up I had these preconceptions about careers that would be mainly men or mainly women. That really bothered me,” says Bongiolo, who has accepted a market data specialist position with ICE, a financial services firm in New York City focused on transparent investments and risk management.
“I was so insecure about the idea of being a Latina woman in finance,” she says. “But most of the women I’ve met through the program tell me that if you’re confident in your knowledge, people will respect you. It doesn’t matter your gender as long as you know your stuff.”
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