As discussed in our last entry, Jeff and I attended the 8th annual RISE Investment Symposium put on by the University of Dayton last week.  The event has grown immensely over the last eight years, drawing over 2700 attendees from 257 colleges and 68 different countries this year.  Last week’s participants closed the NASDAQ stock market on Thursday and also heard from a number of influential speakers including Cleveland Fed President Sandra Pianalto and Chris Gardner, whose life as a homeless father and stock broker served as the basis for the hit movie The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith.  (Gardner, who spent four of his earlier years at Bear Stearns, likened its implosion a few weeks ago to watching the house he grew up in burn down.)

While most of the panelists were bearish given the current environment and credit crisis, the students were as eager as ever, hoping to learn as much as possible by asking some very good and at times pointed questions.  One student asked a Merrill Lynch economist how good his forecasts could really be given the firm’s massive billion dollar write offs.  The moderator didn’t miss a beat, rephrasing the question a tad and then suggesting that this particular student probably wasn’t interested in a career at Merrill anytime soon.   The best advice?  That students personally figure out who they are and what they are made of since investing is as much about one’s stomach at times as one’s head.  

During our breakout presentations to the students the next day, Jeff and I spent most of the time answering questions.  Over the course of two hours, more than two hundred students asked about our investment philosophy, the experience of starting our own business, and our opinions on a variety of stocks, many of which — contrary to Jim Cramer on Mad Money — we had no opinion.  

And the most striking revelation?  Just how diverse today’s student body is compared to what I experienced twenty years ago.  At the end of the second session, a young student from Moscow who was visiting Dayton from St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia asked me a few questions about health care stocks and plays in alternative medicine.   When I was in college, the Cold War was just ending and even if a Muscovite had been around, I doubt we’d be talking stocks.  More likely, we’d have been talking Rocky IV smackdown.  It’s amazing how much things change and yet, at the same time — now with Iraq — how much they don’t.  The consistency of human behavior may be one thing we can always count on.   

Mark your calendars for next year’s 9th Annual RISE Symposium  March 26-28th, 2009.