By Michael K. Smith, Ph.D.
I met Ray DeGennaro over coffee at Panera at lunch time on a nice, almost Spring day. Ray had just come from teaching his Introduction to Finance course at the University of Tennessee. He felt that talking to over 200 students in one of UT’s big lecture halls had strained his voice a bit. Our conversation began with me wondering how he chosen his particular career.
Ray admits that he stumbled into his career in finance. He was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and raised in Oberlin, Ohio. The son of a high school math teacher, Ray was attracted to an academic career, and his early academic efforts were also in education. He earned a Bachelors in Education from Ohio State and then a Masters in Elementary Education from Ohio University. He taught English and Remedial Reading at the high school level until he enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Reading at Ohio State. At this point, he realized that he was no longer completely interested in this subject, so he switched to the university’s Masters in Business Administration program. One day, one of his professors asked him if he wanted to switch into that Ph.D. program. He accepted the offer, and this choice began his lifelong interest into all matters financial.
Ray has had a distinguished professional and academic career. He was a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland before he came to the University of Tennessee in 1990. “How was working at the Federal Reserve different from working in academia?” I asked. “It’s surprisingly similar,” he said. At the Federal Reserve, half of his job involved research on monetary issues and financial institutions. The other half involved disseminating this knowledge. “This is exactly what I do at the University level when I conduct research and then teach classes,” Ray said. His enthusiasm for university teaching has been rewarded with several nominations for outstanding teacher awards.
Ray has had great success with his Great Course How the Stock Market Works (see review in this issue). He is currently designing another Great Course on International Economic Institutions. This course will overview such organizations as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as examining “Why Nations Fail” and the economic consequences of such failure. He likes the academic environment because it allows him the freedom to research new topics.
As our conversation was ending, I must admit that I asked Ray some financial retirement questions. Like I was his student, he worked with me to formulate a precise question that he could answer. Once I had my exact question, I didn’t particularly like the answer. (“That’s just the way it works,” Ray laughed.) We parted with a promise to talk again soon.
Michael K. Smith, Ph.D., is owner of TESTPREP EXPERTS (www.testprepexperts.com ) which prepares students for standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. He is also a consultant to Discovery Education Assessment. He can reached at email@example.com.