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Wisconsin Program Prepares Future Commercial Bankers for Successful Careers

Marquette University Commercial Banking Program welcomes fifth cohort since inception

Dr. Kent Belasco

By Cassandra Krause

The Commercial Banking Program at Marquette University in Milwaukee is one of very few undergraduate commercial banking programs in the country and has graduated 56 students since the program’s inception in 2017, with an additional 16 planned in the next year, at a minimum. At the helm of the program is Dr. Kent Belasco, a 37-year banker who pivoted to a full-time career in higher education after having taught part-time as an adjunct professor of finance while he worked as an executive vice president and chief information and operations officer at a bank. Belasco said his two main goals for the program are (1) to provide students with great career opportunities and (2) to provide talent to the industry.

Students in the finance major at Marquette have the option to choose a concentration in the Applied Investment Management Program or the Commercial Banking Program. Belasco developed an advisory board, built the curriculum for
the Commercial Banking Program, and has published a Fundamentals of Commercial Banking textbook. The program is highly experiential, allowing students to analyze actual small businesses in the community and internationally. Students complete two internships with banks during the program and have opportunities to participate in competitions and field trips to places near and far, like Chicago and Zurich, Switzerland. Marquette is also co-branding research on bank performance with Crowe LLP (a Wisconsin Bankers Association Associate Member), with which students can get involved.

Students complete their introductory classes in finance and typically apply to the Commercial Banking Program as sophomores. A 3.0 GPA
is required for participation in the program, and students complete rigorous coursework that equips them with knowledge and skills Belasco says many bankers may not otherwise acquire until many years into their careers. Banking careers provide the opportunity to earn a good living in a rewarding industry. Belasco noted that today’s students are socially conscious, want to make a difference, and want to give back to the community. When he explains how those values align with the banking industry, he finds that it resonates well with students. He opens one of his introductory classes with a quote from Jason DeSena Trennert’s book, My Side of the Street:

Modern banking… has been the single greatest contributor to human progress… Academics have long noted the strong correlation between modern banking systems and national wealth, allowing businesses to take on more risks in their efforts to grow. Prudent risks can lead to faster economic growth, more jobs, and greater innovation in all fields of human endeavor.

Students who complete the program have a solid command of banking principles and terminology, have worked on projects with businesses and non-profit community organizations, and are eager to grow in meaningful careers. The program boasts a 100 percent job placement rate of its graduates in banks. For bank leaders who are looking to connect with the program and its students, there are a number of avenues:

  • Offer an internship (many can be done remotely during the academic year and/or in person over breaks);
  • Sponsor a scholarship;
  • Host a field trip;
  • Volunteer on a panel or at a career night; and/or
  • Attend the annual conference.

Last year’s virtual cybersecurity conference had around 200 attendees, and the focus of this year’s conference will be climate/sustainability.

An ideal partnership, says Belasco, could look like the following: the bank identifies a student in their local community with an aptitude for banking, sponsors a scholarship for the student at Marquette, offers the student an internship, and then hires the student into a key position at the bank upon graduation. There is a lot of flexibility in how to get involved, and Belasco encourages bankers to reach out to him personally about their plans for succession and talent development.

Daryll Lund, WBA executive vice president and chief of staff, serves on the advisory board for Marquette’s Commercial Banking Program. “To have a specialized program of this quality right here in our state is a great asset for Wisconsin’s banking industry,” says Lund of the program. “I would encourage bankers to raise awareness of the program in their communities and to get involved as employer partners.”

The program is a “win-win-win” for students looking for rewarding careers, for banks seeking talented employees, and for the bank customers they serve.