Q&A with DFE Leadership Award Winner Thomas Schaefer ’22

Headshot of Thomas Schaefer '22 with Duke Chapel arches in background
Thomas Schaefer '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.

Co-president of the Duke Investment Club Thomas Schaefer will graduate in May as a statistics major with minors in finance and mathematics. He will then enter a full-time role with investment firm Oak Hill Advisors in New York City.

“Thomas has been a key player in the Investment Club, keeping it active and engaged with students during the online 2020-2021 school year,” said Rasiel. “He is known as a generous mentor—numerous students credit him with being incredibly helpful to them in preparing for interviews, especially in financial restructuring.”

How did your interest in finance develop?

I have been very interested in math and statistics since high school, and I spent a lot of time going down rabbit holes to learn more about these fields. My introduction to finance was mostly a function of this, and I became really interested in how people could build models to understand extremely complicated and seemingly unpredictable phenomena. At Duke, I got my first practical exposure to investing through the Investment Club’s Investment Training Program (ITP), and I started getting excited about researching companies and events. Through conversations with upperclassmen, alumni in the space, and professionals met through DFE events, I developed a passion for investing and decided to pursue it professionally. Learning to invest is a lifelong process, and I am very grateful I was able to begin my education on the subject at Duke.

How did you become involved with DFE?

I was first introduced to DFE through the Duke in London Finance program, which is co-taught by Emma Rasiel and John Caccavale. I consider Duke in London to be one of the highlights of my Duke experience. It gave me a great introduction to the different career paths in finance, and it was especially exciting to watch the changing financial landscape in the U.K. as Brexit unfolded. My sophomore year I competed in DFE competitions through ECON 256 Practical Finance Markets, where I gained great experience presenting investment ideas, proposed mergers, and economic views to professionals. Collaborating with my pitch teams to produce creative solutions to the cases was challenging and thought provoking and pushed me to strengthen my communication. Both experiences were instrumental to my growth and helped me develop skills I will use for the rest of my life.

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?

My biggest involvement in finance has been with the Duke Investment Club. I am very grateful to have had amazing upperclassmen mentors in the Investment Club, which I credit to the strong culture of apprenticeship and camaraderie prior members cultivated before me. They include Courtney Schwartz ’19, Julia Weidman ’20, Dilan Trivedi ’20, and Ellen Wang ’21 among many others. Their advice spanned recruiting, investing, and leadership. Above all else, they taught me how important it is to give back and the impact it can have on others. As a freshman, I had a difficult time transitioning to Duke, but was eventually able to find my home because of the kindness shown to me by upperclassmen who took the time to help me.

Additionally, I have had the privilege of working with Jake Kraemer ’22 and Sanjay Satish ’22 on the leadership team of Investment Club. The three of us joined the club our freshman spring and have grown up in the club together. Jake and Sanjay have helped educate the next generation of great Duke finance students and are role models for countless students who took ITP, joined the Club, or met them elsewhere.

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

As co-president of the Investment Club, I am proud of the changes I have helped to implement to make careers in investing more accessible to Duke students. This year the Investment Club initiated our sponsorship program, which enabled us to fund our New York trip this past winter as well as attend conferences both in person and virtually. At the Wharton Restructuring and Distressed Investing Conference (WRDIC), Duke, incredibly, had the largest undergraduate representation. Additionally, the club’s investment team implemented the Analyst Training Program (ATP) this year. ATP is investment training that is supplemental to ITP, made to cater to the growing demands of students pursuing careers in private equity and hedge funds directly out of Duke. Through our conversations with investment firms and our breakthrough recruiting success, we are happy to hear Investment Club has started to develop a reputation among our peer schools as having disciplined and creative investors.

While smaller in scope, my proudest contribution was the pitch I helped to lead my sophomore year for Investment Club. My team and I pitched Zillow. It was my first serious leadership position at Duke and gave me invaluable experience mentoring and working with younger students.

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

In 2020, while most schools were virtual, I helped to organize an educational series and case competition for high school students internationally. Teaching is one of my passions, and this was a great opportunity to help provide an extracurricular experience to many students who lost a material part of their high school experience because of the pandemic.

Academically, I have loved my experience with the statistics major and have done some research applying it to game theory. While my coursework for my first three years has mostly been math and stats, I decided to branch out into new areas and ended up taking classes on computational biology and a house course on space medicine, which helped to round out my coursework and give me a well-rounded Duke experience. One of my close friends also helped get me interested in literature. While studying literature formally is a new interest for me, it's not only been enjoyable but has also improved my thinking in academic and professional interests, despite being incredibly different from them.

Watch the video below to hear Thomas's advice for his fellow Dukies.