Q&A with DFE Leadership Award Winner Gianna Affi '22

Gianna Affi standing in front of Duke Chapel stone
Gianna Affi '22, 2021-2022 DFE Leadership Award winner

For the Duke Financial Economics Center (DFE), each spring brings the opportunity to honor a number of seniors for their exceptional leadership qualities and commitment to mentorship throughout their involvement with the center. Directors John Caccavale and Emma Rasiel established the DFE Leadership Award in 2011 for this purpose. They are pleased to add the 2021-2022 winners to the list of recipients: Gianna Affi, Arjun Bakshi, William Bradley, Davis Jones, and Thomas Schaefer.

Coming from a wide range of academic interests and extracurricular pursuits, Affi, Bakshi, Bradley, Jones, and Schaefer demonstrate that Duke students with a passion for finance cannot be pigeonholed. This month we are highlighting each of them in a Q&A profile.

Below, native Milwaukeean Gianna Affi discusses her journey toward a career in finance. She will graduate in May with a political science major, Arabic minor, and a Markets & Management Certificate. Her next destination will be New York City, where she will be a leveraged financed analyst on the healthcare desk of Morgan Stanley’s Global Capital Markets group.

“In my experience with Gianna, she always shows up and gives 100%,” said Caccavale. “She takes learning and helping younger students very seriously but always brings wit and authenticity.”

How did your interest in finance develop? 

When I was a first year, I took ECON 101 (before it was pass-fail!). It was the hardest class I’ve ever taken, but I loved what I learned. I went to John Caccavale’s office and explained my predicament: I wanted to pursue a career in business/finance, but I didn’t want to be an econ major. As it turns out, this wasn’t a predicament at all. John told me to study what I like and to apply for DFE’s Duke in Chicago Finance program. I took both pieces of advice, which remain two of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

In Chicago, I met dozens of Duke alumni who exposed me to the variety of careers that exist in business/finance. It was also through Duke in Chicago that I learned of the sophomore internships that exist. I went home after that trip and applied to as many as I could find and eventually landed myself a gig in the Global Capital Markets group at Morgan Stanley. The rest is history!

How did you become involved with DFE? 

As a person of color who isn’t an econ major and whose parents don’t work in finance, I felt compelled to speak with others about my journey in finance. I wanted to share the tips about networking and résumés that I’d pick up along the way, and I wanted to encourage students to study what they truly like. I applied to be a TA for ECON 256 Practical Financial Markets and then dedicated a lot of extra time to mentorship. For the past three years, I’ve met with underclassmen regularly and offered any insights I have, hoping to de-mystify finance and bring in as much new and diverse talent as possible.

What events, programs, classes, and people have had the most impact on you as you’ve pursued finance? In what ways have they helped you grow? 

John is the first name that comes to mind, as he single-handedly dispelled so many of the misconceptions I held about finance. If not for John, I might have suffered through a major I wasn’t passionate about, which is no way to spend an undergraduate experience, and I might never have made the connections I made while in Chicago.

Also, ECON 256 is as valuable as it’s marketed to be. In addition to being taught by John and Emma, two of the best professors at Duke, the course offers insight that cannot be learned from a textbook or Google search. It is truly the best way to decide whether you’re interested in finance and to hone your interests and skillsets in a supportive environment.

Of all of the contributions you’ve made through finance-related activities (both DFE and non-DFE), of what are you the proudest? 

If you haven’t heard this yet, Duke alumni will do just about anything to help other people in the Duke network. The alumni I’ve met through DFE have never hesitated to meet for a coffee, take a phone call, read an email draft, you name it. So what I’m most proud of is giving back to other Duke students, whether through editing résumés, doing mock interviews, or helping pick classes. I’ve made it my goal to simplify and de-stress the process for as many underclassmen as possible. It's been my absolute pleasure to pass along the support I was given. 

Outside of finance, what other interests have you explored at Duke? What non-finance accomplishments are you proud of? 

 I’ve done a lot at Duke—student government for three years, various club sports, editor for a magazine, and more. But outside of finance, where I’ve come to life most has been in the Duke Arab Student Organization, where I serve as chair of social programming. It can be hard to find a sense of community at Duke, so having the opportunity to connect with people who share my heritage has been a really special experience. This year I helped plan “My Big Fat Arab Wedding,” a sold-out celebration of Middle Eastern culture. The event’s 300 attendees enjoyed zaffa, dabke, henna, and several other traditions from the Middle East. It was a night to remember!  

Watch the video below to hear Gianna's advice for her fellow Dukies.