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Professor and MBA Alumna Collaborate on FinTech Paper –Deepening her MBA Experience

Michelle Thomas, MBA '17 and Professor Joel Morse

A strong rapport between student and professor is among the most rewarding outcomes of the higher education experience. Across all four schools at the University of Baltimore, faculty members routinely provide opportunities—where activities like research, mentorships, projects, conferences, and more—deepen the learning dynamics of teacher and student. As a result, students are able to explore and refine their interests, more profoundly.

For Michelle Thomas, MBA '17, what began as a classroom interaction with her in-class team and her professor in a fully-online class, has recently opened the door to a world of potential in a growing business field that is looking more and more like a new frontier. It's called FinTech — "financial technology"—and it is capturing the attention of a broad community of wealth managers and analysts.

Thomas, a long-time resident of Baltimore, graduate of Western High School, Morgan State University, and Towson University, is a certified, former elementary-school teacher for Baltimore County Public Schools. Today, she sees her decision to further her graduate education as the foundation for a new direction. And if affirmation is an essential part of that mix, then Thomas is starting off strong and ready.

But, Thomas's academic career at UB did not begin from a place of strength.

"I was a returning student in Dr. [Joel] Morse's class. I struggled my first time in his finance course," she says. "I wanted to get an A. I dropped the course and got tutoring. The second time, I did really well and received an opportunity to co-author an academic paper with Dr. Morse, as a result of completing a required class assignment. Now, I truly hope that my story encourages someone to keep trying and never give up on accomplishing his/her goals. Hard work and perseverance really does pay off."

Steadily, and through hard work, Thomas not only improved, but also achieved her initial goal of receiving an "A" in the course. It was in Prof. Morse's online 600-level finance class in Spring 2017 that the gears really began to sync up for her. The topic was FinTech, and the many ways that it is proving to be disruptive to the financial services industry. Thomas was aware that the adoption, years ago, of certain technologies—electronic trading, automated financial advising and the like—had blossomed into entirely new ways of managing wealth. Anybody with a smart phone can complete any number of transactions around the world. It's possible—with some doing—to buy a car or a house online. But it's more than just cool ways of owning stuff—it's a marked improvement in overall financial intelligence, from the individual, all the way up to a global trading desk or a nation's government. As Thomas puts it, FinTech is a "revolution," and it has changed business forever.

Morse, a 30-year member of the business school's faculty, a former associate dean and current professor of finance, took note of Thomas's interest in FinTech. He encouraged her to do more research in the field, and to share her findings. Thomas was inspired—but this was all pretty new.

"We had a group project. I was a little apprehensive," she says, "To my surprise, Prof. Morse asked me to work and jointly edit in depth with him to publish a paper I wrote about FinTech. I've been surprised and thankful, ever since, that he gave me the opportunity."

Prof. Morse says he shares Thomas's passion for this branch of technology, especially blockchain, which provides cryptographic security to transactional data. (Blockchain is one of the reasons that Bitcoin has made such an impact.) In an effort to encourage Thomas to keep pursuing her interest in the field, he proposed that the two co-author a paper about FinTech—an overview that draws up the history of the technology, and also speculates about what lies ahead.

"This topic is valuable to the business school," he says. "FinTech is reaching out via technology to change the way wealth management is done. That's big. For those of us who teach in the Merrick School, it's part of what we do, to work with colleagues and turn out intellectual content to maintain our accreditation. For Michelle, it's a very nice resume builder."

It's also the best way for a student to learn how academic publishing works. After shopping around the draft article, with both Morse and Thomas making editorial changes and doing more research, the pair elected to publish the article, entitled "Fintech – Origins and Prognosis," with the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA).

While the article was not peer reviewed, it is considered to be a valuable contribution to the field because so much of it is news.

"Many of the NACVA people have or seek graduate-level education," Prof. Morse notes. "Articles like this show the impact of the Merrick School of Business on practitioners. This sort of paper is part of the 'salad' offered by the business school."

While the two share an author's credit, Prof. Morse is quick to praise Thomas for her essential contributions.

"The paper shows her to be continuing her education outside the classroom," he says. "She worked on it even after earning her MBA. I like to say that she became a team of one."

But the successful landing of the paper isn't the end of this academic partnership. There are conference presentations to make, such as the 55th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Economics and Finance in Houston, Texas. Nevertheless, the takeway here is that FinTech, it seems, will be important as long as people are buying, selling and trading.

Years ago, Thomas wrote and published a children's book, My Teacher Means the World to Me. She makes it clear that whether it's a class, a paper, a research project—any kind of collaboration between teacher and learner—the transformative part is in the sharing of knowledge. Real support is hard to find, and wonderful to have.

By her standards, though Michelle Thomas didn't start where she wanted, academically, at UB, she regrouped, came back stronger, and ended with various honors. Furthermore, co-authoring an academic paper with Prof. Morse was an unexpected, yet valuable part of her academic comeback, where she gained useful experience, inside and outside of the classroom.