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Furman unveils Finance and Business Analytics Lab

Business Analytics Lab

There’s a reason for the throngs of people staring and snapping photos outside a Hipp Hall classroom these days.

In what appears to be a scene from Wall Street, the visitors can’t help but notice the Joe and Diana Hurley Finance and Business Analytics Lab, a 600-square-foot space equipped with dual-screen Bloomberg terminals, a stock ticker (both inside and outside the lab), several flat panel displays flanking wood-paneled walls, and large atomic clocks showing times for major trading cities around the globe.

Drawn by the sideways looping ticker, students, parents and other passersby gathered recently outside a class taught by Furman finance professor Tom Smythe. “It literally felt like we were in a fish bowl,” Smythe says. But that attention-grabbing look is all part of the plan. “We want this to be a showcase for the university…so the lab is already achieving part of what we set out to accomplish.”

The new lab had its official unveiling April 1 when university officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the innovative, high-tech facility.  It is named for Diana and Joe Hurley, a 1978 Furman graduate and CEO of Chi-Rho Financial in Atlanta.

As stunning as it is, what makes the lab remarkable is the wealth of things that can be done with the technology. By summer, the space will be equipped with seven Bloomberg stations, which serve as conduits for lots of easy-to-use, real-time, big data.

Smythe says, “I brought my Equity Valuation class in here and we watched Fed Chair Janet Yellen give her comments after the Federal Open Market Committee meeting. At the same time, we could watch what the markets were doing in response to what she was saying. That’s as real world as you can get.”

Smythe goes on to point out other ways the lab enhances the classroom experience. He describes the beefed-up teaching workstation (a “Maserati version”) on which he can pull up Bloomberg stock data, demo a calculation with the doc cam (like a digital overhead projector), and have students link Excel spreadsheet data to the teaching workstation—all at once.

“Let’s say a student is having a problem with a spreadsheet,” he says.  “The student can log on (via AirMedia) and I can project the spreadsheet for all to see, ‘OK, here’s the problem, now you guys solve it.’ It becomes a much richer learning experience … we can have up to six different views on panels at the same time.” A traditional setup would only allow one view at a time.

Junior business major Alex Brannan of New Canaan, Conn. says he likes the connections that can be made with so much data at his fingertips. Having finished the Business Block and now in the Investments class, Brannan says, “We are looking at bonds, and when rates change, that’s what influences bonds immediately. So we can see that connection (in real time) and be able to draw conclusions…I couldn’t have asked for anything more – it’s really cool.”

Bloomberg is the industry standard for all things financial, but the subscription also serves lobbyists and others in the political arena. “We had folks from the economics and political science departments come over for a presentation. The Bloomberg database tracks entire bills being proposed in Congress, how people have voted—a whole host of things,” says Smythe.

The depth and breadth of data available through Bloomberg is only part of the arrangement orchestrated by Furman’s information technology team. State-of-the-art video-conferencing makes the space even more attractive across campus. Says Smythe, “We are able to bring up to 10 experts on the screens for interactive conferencing.” And the lab is the only classroom setting on campus where that can be done.

So the possibilities are endless in terms of making the space available university-wide. Smythe, whose department is integrating the lab across the entire curriculum from Integrated Marketing Communications, to Business Analytics, to Equity Valuation, Auditing, Investments and others, says, “We want people to use the space till we break it … we want it to be well-worn.”

At peer schools and larger universities, Smythe says he’s not aware of any lab across the country that uses the space like Furman intends. “The lab has a finance look and feel, but we can do a lot more than investment/portfolio management with the technology we have.”

It’s hard not to notice the sparkling glass entry wall for the Joe and Diana Hurley Finance and Business Analytics Lab in Hipp Hall. But Smythe wants students, regardless of academic track, to notice something bigger. “Furman supports its students, and this cutting-edge lab is just one example of it,” he says.

For more information, contact Dr. Thomas Smythe at 864-294-3312 and thomas.smythe@furman.edu.

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