Class of 2019: How This Norwegian Student Went With the Flow, Landed on Wall Street

William Evensen said “hands down, the most transformative experience” he’s had has been in the Commerce School’s student-run Alternative Investment Fund.

Yes, he loves Norwegian summers, when the sun never sets. But graduating University of Virginia student William Evensen, who grew up in Oslo, has come to appreciate the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains as well, all while expanding his horizons on Grounds through his education at the McIntire School of Commerce.

Now, the sun is about to rise on a bright future for him in investment banking, beginning in New York City. In the fall, he’ll go to work at J.P. Morgan, where he worked last summer, as a member of an investment banking consumer and retail team. He and two fellow graduates who are going to work in the city will look for housing together.

When his parents cross the Atlantic to come for graduation, along with his brother and his grandparents, Evensen wants to show them “touch points” of Virginia he has come to know and love. He said Norwegians are known for their love of nature and hiking, and his family is no exception. He plans to take them to places like Humpback Rock and some local wineries, as well as favorite restaurants.

During a gap year between high school and college, Evensen had two internships that confirmed his interest in studying business, he said. In Oslo, he worked at a start-up incubator facilitating new businesses getting off the ground. In Switzerland, he did a short stint for a consulting firm.

During that gap year, the adventurous Evensen also worked on a sheep farm in France and went backpacking in Laos, Thailand and even Myanmar. But getting accustomed to life in Charlottesville was almost too difficult; as he struggled through his first year on Grounds, he wondered if should stay.

He wasn’t expecting such overwhelming culture shock, he said, but he decided to keep trying to understand and participate in the college student life he’d come to find in the U.S., seeking the reasons he set aside a free education in his home country.

It seemed to him that college in America had more to offer. “School is more integrated into life and merges with social activities and sports. It all adds another layer,” Evensen said. “These parts are separate in Norway.”

But the benefits eluded him at first.

He realized that although his ability to read and write English was adequate, his grasp of conversation was causing some embarrassing misunderstandings. He was also unfamiliar with some cultural references, such as what’s considered funny and what music other students listened to, he said.

He joined a fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, as a social brother his second year, and that helped a lot.

He’s glad he persevered and became more comfortable here, so he could apply to the McIntire School of Commerce.

“I love how investing requires both quantitative, mathematical skills, and a deep understanding of human behavior, human thought patterns and our decision-making strategies.”

- William Evensen

That’s because “hands down, the most transformative experience” has been joining the Commerce School’s student-run Alternative Investment Fund, he said. Through peer mentoring, the group trains students in investment management and financial strategies. The students (about 45 in any given year) learn how to pitch investment strategies in areas known as “alternative” – that includes “a wide array of assets, including equities, fixed income, options, futures, currencies, commodities and other alternative investments,” as the organization’s website says. The members manage real investments in four funds in AIF’s portfolio, each with a different investment strategy.

But it’s not just strategy that he learned.

“Through AIF, I got introduced to personalities from all over the world, with very different backgrounds, perspectives and thought patterns,” Evensen said. “I built a unique network of friendships that extend far beyond the academic and professional aspects of AIF. Especially through my role as a member of the executive committee, I developed relationships with a set of friends that I probably would not have met if had I stuck with my normal habits from my first year. I now know I can go to the Philippines, Portugal, Ukraine, Malta, India, China, Florida and many other places in the U.S. and be hosted by friends in AIF.”

The peer-mentoring involved made all the difference, and instilled a sense of “giving back” to other students, he said.

“You meet smart peers you might not have met otherwise,” Evensen said. He still maintains mentoring relationships with a few alumni, to whom he turned recently when thinking about his career and next steps. He also hopes to continue his mentoring role with other students.

He has also turned to his professors, some of whom he considers mentors outside of class.

David C. Smith, Virginia Bankers Association Professor of Finance, first met Evensen when he was a second-year student going on the Commerce School’s “N.Y. Trek,” where its Careers in Finance program takes a select group of students to the city to visit about 15 different investment banks and other financial institutions over a whirlwind of four days to learn from professionals and to network.

Smith said Evensen is “a hard worker and great student. But he goes beyond that by being a particularly engaged learner, both in and out of class. In my fourth-year class on ‘Valuation and Restructuring,’ William was always one of the most engaged students. He’s also always positive and upbeat.”

Evensen also got the opportunity in his fourth year to work as a teaching assistant for two faculty members: Jeff Leopold, in his prerequisite commerce course; and John Griffin, who taught the seminar “Deciding Wisely and Thinking Critically.”

“Both [jobs] proved to be among the best learning experiences I had during my fourth year,” Evensen said.

Of Griffin’s course, he said: “The class was very dynamic and I especially enjoyed getting to know Professor Griffin outside of the classroom. His depth of professional experience (inside and outside of investing), as well as his strong understanding of concepts affecting decision-making and human behavior, made the T.A. job a completely unique experience where I got introduced to his perspectives, as well as ideas and concepts I had not encountered in any other class at UVA.”

Overall, “McIntire was a terrific experience,” Evensen said. He finds several aspects of investing “tremendously fascinating.”

“First of all, it is very hard. It is humbling and even the best are often very wrong. I am very competitive, and applying a competitive mindset to a field that is very hard makes it even more exciting when you do well, but also opens up great learning opportunities when you are wrong.

“I also love how investing, both in public and private markets, requires both quantitative, mathematical skills, but also a deep understanding of human behavior, human thought patterns and our decision-making strategies. If you can learn to assess, analyze and understand people on a deep level, you have a good toolkit to succeed in investing – and business in general.

“I also think there are fields where one can use strong investing skills to do good for society and create social development. The combination of these aspects makes investing a very interesting professional field.”

As excited about investing as he has been, Evensen said he consciously took classes out of his comfort zone. He said the hardest course he has taken was “Introduction to Acting” in the Department of Drama. He thought the public-speaking aspect of it would be helpful. He still remembers the first day of class where he had to show the progression of a new baby to an old, dying man – a whole lifetime in the space of crossing the classroom.

Among other non-business courses, he also enjoyed a Chinese history course and one on drawing. He has spent time on painting as a hobby, so the latter was not as much of a stretch. His parents instilled in him a love of art in general, he said, and his younger brother loves drawing.

“It’s a good way to get away from the numbers,” said Evensen, who also enjoys golf.

He did go home to Norway during winter and summer breaks, where he spent time doing another favorite thing to relax – gardening. He learned that, along with a love of the outdoors, working with his grandfather, who lives on an island near Oslo.

“I love the peacefulness of it [gardening]. And you can see the results of your work,” he said.

Eventually, he hopes to return to Norway and apply all that he has learned to whatever work he ends up doing there.

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications