The Game Changing SMILE

Shane Cotriss stands in front of the Entrepreneurship Wall of Fame at UTC

By Shane Cotriss

I went off to college still unsure about my major. It was nursing, an in-demand field, and I was comfortable with math and science, so it seemed a good enough choice.

A couple years later, I was even less sure about my major. I considered switching to biochemistry, for which I also felt my math and science skills were strong enough. When I talked about it with a friend from high school, he said, “You liked finance in high school. Why aren’t you thinking about that?”

The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I had enjoyed a required finance class in high school. The subject interested me. Changing my major to finance wouldn’t add the three semesters to graduate that biochemistry would, and there were good career options.

In 2016, I’d just become a business major with a finance/investments concentration when I saw a Facebook ad recruiting for the UTC SMILE Fund: “Hey, we’re managing real money with real consequences.” That’s the Student-Managed Investment Learning Experience, formed in 2015 with a starter $250,000 from the UC Foundation.

I learned that just about everybody in the investments track wanted to get in on the SMILE Fund—and so did I. I filled out an application, interviewed and, a few weeks later, I got the email from faculty director Hunter Holzhauer letting me know I made it. Coming in as a former nursing major, my GPA was the lowest of anyone involved. Holzhauer told me, “You’ve got to prove yourself. You’ll be surrounded by geniuses.”

You spend three semesters with SMILE Fund. I was in my first when Holzhauer invited all of us new members to the last investment strategy meeting of the semester. I walked in to see SMILE Fund members who would represent UTC in the upcoming global Chartered Finance Analyst (CFA) Investment Research Challenge. They had spent months researching a company and preparing a paper and a 20-minute presentation.

They went over their findings, and the information went over my head, but I loved the idea of this competition and how much they had learned from it. I resolved to make the challenge team to prove I belonged in the SMILE Fund. Once I did, my goal was that we work at least as hard as the UTC team that made it to the Americas level of competition the year before. We advanced to the second round of the Americas-level competition.

Along the way, I had a breakthrough. Throughout prepping for the challenge, I enjoyed myself. And, through all the peer-to-peer teaching that happens in the SMILE Fund, I realized I enjoyed teaching, too.

Holzhauer encouraged me to attend graduate school, and now I’m on track to get an MBA from UTC in December. The experience has given me a chance to teach some undergrads and conduct research, from which I learned that’s what I really want to do.

Now, I’m looking at universities where I hope to begin pursuing a Ph.D. next year. I’m glad I discovered where I think I’m meant to be.

And to say that my decision to pursue a slot with UTC’s Smile Fund as I pursued a finance degree was a game-changer—that’s a real understatement.

Shane Cotriss, from Dickson, received a bachelor’s degree in finance at UTC in 2017 and is expected to receive an MBA at UTC in December 2019.