Q&A with DFE Leadership Award Winner Hannah O’Sullivan ’20

Headshot of Hannah O'Sullivan '20 in business attire
Hannah O'Sullivan '20, 2020-2021 DFE Leadership Award winner

At the end of every spring semester, the Duke Financial Economics Center (DFE) selects seniors to receive the DFE Leadership Award, which honors students’ initiative in finance-related activities and dedication to mentorship. The 2020-2021 recipients of the DFE Leadership Award are Itamar Barak, Noah Karpel, Eric Little, and Hannah O’Sullivan.

Despite the challenges of the 2020-2021 academic year, these seniors continued to step up, making themselves available to younger students for advising, organizing events to help their fellow students stay engaged, and rounding out their Duke experiences with other activities that ignited their passions.

We are featuring the award recipients through a series of Q&A profiles. In this installment, Hannah O’Sullivan, who graduated in fall 2020 with a B.S. in Economics with a Finance Concentration and a Markets & Management certificate, talks about the impact mentorship has had on her and the communities that have been meaningful to her at Duke.

DFE Executive Director John Caccavale commented: “Hannah is a fearless Dukie. Her determination to succeed both inside and outside the classroom is contagious.”

Starting in July, Hannah will be an investment banking analyst with Goldman Sachs in the Technology, Media, and Telecommunications (TMT) group.

How did your interest in finance develop?

I really had not received much exposure to finance before coming to Duke. I started freshman year interested in economics because of classes I'd taken during high school, and through the major I started hearing more about finance and the field piqued my interest. Having had nearly zero exposure to finance, I knew I needed to dive in and learn a lot more, so I enrolled in Investment Club's Investor Training Program (ITP). I found I really enjoyed engaging with the material. As I spoke with upperclassmen and heard more about their finance internship experiences, I began to conclude that this was an industry I was very interested in pursuing further. Then, as I took more finance classes at Duke and began to engage more with DFE and alumni, my passion for and knowledge of finance began to grow rapidly. 

How did you become involved with DFE?

I first became involved with DFE when I took John Caccavale's Econ 370 Global Capital Markets class during the fall of my sophomore year. John's class continues to be one of my favorites out of all I've taken at Duke. The classroom environment was highly dynamic, and John challenged each of us to participate heavily, form views about highly important global news, and step out of our comfort zones as we learned to defend our views in front of the class. These are incredibly important skills for any career, but especially so for finance, and I'm thankful John gave us that space to learn very actively.

Then, once I signed up for DFE's email list, I was blown away by the extensive resources provided to students. I attended so many of the events hosted by DFE, such as Lunch & Learns and January Networking Days, and I frequently went to office hours with Emma and John. Their mentorship and guidance have been pivotal as I've honed in on my interests in finance and charted out my path towards my goals. 

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?

All of the resources provided by DFE made a profound impact on my personal and professional development as I've pursued finance. I took full advantage of the Lunch & Learns that DFE hosted with alumni working in the industry during my sophomore year. The Lunch & Learns were such a great way to get an inside look into the industry from Duke alumni who were usually further along in their careers. It was one of these sessions that ultimately led me to pursue my sophomore summer internship in Fixed Income Sales and Trading. As the alumni speakers described the incredibly dynamic role of the division, I knew I wanted to learn more.

Similarly, there were a few alumni I met during an information session on campus that drew me to the role I held the summer after junior year and will be returning to full time. These alumni took so much of their time to speak with me, share their insight, and provide advice. This engagement from alumni made an immense difference in my experience as I figured out what I was most interested in and navigated recruiting, and for that I'm extremely grateful.

John's Global Capital Markets class had some of the greatest impact on me personally. I took the class while I was still fairly early on in my pursuit of finance. It definitely empowered me to be more confident in myself and more comfortable with communicating my thoughts, all of which has been invaluable throughout my internship experiences and will continue to be very important as I start my full-time job.

Investment Club has also played a large role in my personal and professional growth at Duke as I met some of my most impactful upperclassmen mentors through the club. Brandon Foreman '19 and Julia Weidman '20, both former recipients of this award, are two of several upperclassmen whose mentorship made such a huge impact on me as I figured out my direction in finance. These mentors spent so much time answering my questions as I was figuring out what internships I wanted to pursue. Once I made those decisions, they helped me form effective action plans, took the time to mock interview me, and shared their advice whenever I asked. They showed me how important mentorship can be because beyond helping me successfully navigate the recruitment process, they encouraged me to believe in myself and be more confident in who I am and what I have to offer. 

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

Due to my incredibly positive experiences being mentored by upperclassmen, when I think of the contributions I've made through finance-related activities at Duke, I'm most proud of the mentorship I've been able to provide to other Duke students. I've been on the executive board of Investment Club since the beginning of my junior year, and I currently serve as the executive vice president of the club. During this academic year, I've co-taught our Investor Training Program, which has enrolled about 300 students between the fall and spring semesters. I've also implemented mentorship pairings between underclassmen and upperclassmen and partnered with our executive president to oversee the club's educational initiatives.

Teaching students has been immensely fulfilling. I've thoroughly enjoyed this avenue for connecting with underclassmen and sharing all of the knowledge that's been passed down to me from my personal mentors. In this capacity, I've had the joy of speaking with countless freshmen and sophomores who've personally reached out to ask about my experiences in pursuing finance during my time at Duke. As I distinctly remember being on the other side of those conversations with upperclassmen just a couple years ago, I recognize how impactful these conversations can be. I hope I've been able to provide the level of mentorship I once received and so deeply appreciated. 

I'm also the current co-president of the Duke Private Equity Club and in this role recently organized and launched an alumni mentorship network that has connected 13 Duke alumni currently working in the PE industry with 30 Duke students for semester-long mentorship. In the several weeks since this network was launched, we've received so much wonderful feedback from students about how helpful their mentors have already been. Seeing this positive response and impact has been very fulfilling. Through this network, I believe our club has created a highly valuable addition to the finance community here at Duke. 

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

Being a member of the D1 Duke Women's Golf Team has been the most special, defining part of my Duke experience. It's been an honor to be a part of a team with such a historic legacy, both of golf achievement and of an undeniably strong character. Our Women's Golf program is a family, and everyone in the program, from my teammates, coaches, and advisors to so many in our Athletic Department, has monumentally impacted my growth and development as a student, golfer, and person.

Since my sophomore year, I've also served as an upperclassman mentor to nine freshman student-athletes annually through the Athletics Department's ACTION first-year leadership development program. Navigating life as a student-athlete at Duke is challenging as we strive to perform at the highest level both in the classroom and in our sports. For this reason, I believe this mentorship platform is all the more important. It's been so rewarding to play a role in the growth of the outstanding freshmen additions to the Blue Devil family each year.

Beyond golf, finance, and the Duke Athletics Department, I have also been on the executive board of Duke She's The First for the past three years, and I currently serve as the president of our on-campus chapter. She's The First is a national non-profit which addresses inequities in access to education. Being able to contribute to this cause that I care deeply about has been a very meaningful part of my Duke experience. Lastly, I've served as an undergraduate intern for the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics for the last two years. The resources I've had access to and the people I've met through this center have greatly informed my communication style and impacted my development as a leader. 

What advice would you give first-years and sophomores, in terms of pursuing finance and in general? What advice would you give students who will be upperclassmen in the fall?

Hannah O'Sullivan offers advice to fellow Duke students on pursuing finance and getting the most out of their time at Duke.

Any other comments you’d like to share?

I just want to thank Emma, John, and the entire DFE staff for all that they do for us students here at Duke. I've grown so much personally and professionally since the start of my Duke experience, and DFE has played such a large part in my development over the last four years.