DAVENPORT — The atmosphere within St. Ambrose University’s Rogalski Center Ballroom pulsated with excitement and determination Oct. 11 as students flagged down floor traders, eager to sell off and buy up stocks amid rapidly fluctuating market trends.

A total of 31 teams from Iowa high schools, including three from Burlington, were facing off in the Junior Achievers Stock Market Challenge, the goal being to get the highest return on investment over a 60-day period.

The challenge didn’t actually span 60 days. Rather each trading day was one minute, with each day bringing news through hot tips and news releases from the financial markets, challenging teams to evaluate trends and compete for the attention of floor traders to make trades, buy and sell shares.

With each minute that ticked by, the Burlington High School students grew bolder.

“Floor trader!” BHS junior Aeron Roth called out as she pointed at a nearby floor trader, his role made known by the opaque green visor atop his head, following the drop of a hot tip.

It was BHS’s first time competing in such a challenge, and despite having had little practice, they were naturals, their ambitions fueled by soda, coffee and the adrenaline of the trading floor.

Prior to the challenge, they got a crash course in the stock exchange from Bryan Bross, a former Junior Achiever who now serves on the Burlington School Board and accompanied them on the trip, along with Extended Learning Program teachers Aron Kehoe and Katie Salisbury.

Once at St. Ambrose, students also heard from an investment panel made up of three industry professionals from the Quad Cities area: senior portfolio advisor Catherine Dittmer, CFP, CSRIC, CFPA; financial advisor Blake Shaeffer; and Steve VanDerSchaaf, senior vice president of Wealth Management and branch manager at Raymond James.

The three told the students about what goes into working in finance, the lifestyle it affords, and how to assess risk.

“A great example of how to think about risk is basically, if you’re looking at a stock, think about what is everything that could possibly go wrong,” Dittmer said. “Is it international stock? Could there be geopolitical risk? Could there be risk of that currency falling vs. the U.S. dollar? If it’s a domestic stock, then you have other risks, like reputation risk.”

Dittmer pointed to the fallout faced by General Motors following the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. The person who carried out the bombing did so in a GMC truck. While the bombing had nothing to do with the product itself, the company, or how the company was run, the mere fact that the guilty party drove a GMC caused GM’s stock to take a significant hit.

“There can be risks that come completely out of left field, and that is something that you as an investment manager have to try to quantify and measure,” Dittmer said.

Dittmer also said her career allowed her to go from growing up in a trailer park with plywood flooring to living “extremely comfortably with a very nice home and a very nice car” in the span of just 10 years since graduating college.

“This is one of the very few professions that you can go from being broke to living very comfortably in such a short amount of time with only a four-year degree,” Dittmer said.

She went on to encourage the young women in attendance to consider a similar career track, noting that only 14% of financial advisors are women, giving them a competitive edge in a field that has traditionally been an “old boys club” at a time when women are becoming more wealthy.

“There is a huge opportunity because people like to work with people who look like them,” she said.

Soon after the panel discussion closed, the trading bell rang out and it was all hands on deck as the teams watched stock prices rise and fall and did their best to predict what the market would bring next.

Of the 31 teams, the BHS teams ranked 15th, 18th and 19th. They’re eager to compete again. BHS senior Zyana Bradford, who plans to attend Drake University next year and whose team began the challenge with a more cautious approach, said next time, she plans to take bigger risks in hopes of bigger gains.

She and her classmates said they would like to host a similar event for area schools at BHS in the future.

The Junior Achievers’ next competition will be in April when they head to Muscatine for the JA Titan Competition, a simulation-based program where students will compete as business CEOs in the mobile phone industry.

The competition promotes work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

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