Lights, Camera, … Finance!

Social Sciences4 MIN READ

Amid the pandemic, Professor Randy Nelson makes 100-plus videos to prepare students for financial literacy

Randy Nelson, Douglas professor of economics and finance
By Linzy Rosen ’22Photography by Gabe Souza
January 7, 2021

For Randy Nelson, the hardest part about creating 105 short films isn’t getting the lighting right or remembering the script. It’s about making sure the math adds up.

Randy Nelson
Randy Nelson, the Douglas Professor of Economics and Finance

Amid the pandemic, Nelson, the Douglas Professor of Economics and Finance, has been redefining the way students learn financial literacy and computation in his Corporate Finance I course.

When Colby transitioned to distance learning in March, Nelson recalled, “I rushed out and bought a video camera.” He then quickly converted his basement into a teaching space.

Throughout the remote spring semester, Nelson realized lecturing while writing problems on his whiteboard made the videos extremely long. So instead, he dedicated hours to filling his board before each lecture and then spent the actual recordings walking through each problem. The result: shorter lectures and greater efficiency for his economics students.

Nelson’s audience for corporate finance is diverse, with a range of majors from French to psychology. The common thread? Nearly half the students are economics minors. “It’s proven to be very, very popular. It’s the most popular minor at Colby,” Nelson said.

Recognizing these varied backgrounds, Nelson strives to connect with all his students. In addition to producing more than 100 videos, he holds optional Zoom sessions each week, where he’s able to break the fourth wall. “It’s like having an interactive class,” Nelson said, “which I think a lot of the students really benefit from and enjoy.”

Students are appreciating both and in the process becoming more prepared for financial life after Colby. “I’ve learned a lot about mortgages and taking out loans—what looks like a good loan, what looks like a bad loan, and why,” said Hannah Corey ’22, who is majoring in government and minoring in economics. While Corey is considering a variety of careers in the finance world, the course extends beyond that realm. “I think it’s just important for anyone … to take this class.”

Nelson uses a whiteboard in the basement of his home to teach his classes during the fall semester.
Nelson uses a whiteboard in the basement of his home to teach his classes during the fall semester.

Nelson double-downed on this, saying, “It’s not a pure corporate finance course.” Rather, the course is intended to serve as an effective, innovative way to prepare college students to manage their transition into adulthood. Other financial knowledge covered in the video catalog: how to balance an income sheet, figure out if they should refinance a mortgage, and determine whether a certain stock is a worthwhile investment.

For some students, that’s already coming in handy.

Alex Martel ’23, an environmental policy and economics double major, says the course has enhanced his day-to-day financial literacy. An early takeaway? “Putting away really small amounts of money at decent interest rates can yield huge benefits, given the right amount of time,” he said.

Martel is putting his growing financial skills to work at the Colby Student Investment Association (CSIA). At CSIA, which is open to all students, members work in teams to make pitches for stock investments. After presenting to a panel of judges, which includes Colby faculty and finance-savvy alumni, the winning team gets to make a real investment, using $100,000 donated for this purpose by Todger Anderson ’67.

To Martel, the support he’s received from the club members, coupled with what he’s learned from Nelson, has been invaluable. “It’s a way that you can, in a really low-risk environment, have the experience of making a pitch that you might be making to a VP … five or ten years down the road,” Martel said. He also commended Nelson’s efforts, recognizing that producing the videos was no easy feat.

While Nelson doesn’t plan on becoming a professional film director any time soon, as he joked, he believes the effort will go a long way. “As I’ve gotten older and older, I talk to people, and so many of them say, ‘I wish I’d learned more about finance when I was younger,’” Nelson said. “I’m trying to make this available to as many people as possible because you just can’t escape it.”