There were days as graduate students at SDSU when Ryan Burton and Valerie Bares were learning something in class and applying it that same day in the workplace.
They were two of more than a dozen participants in a unique fellowship program offered by Capital Services, a leading payment portfolio management and service company that originates, services, and manages card assets on behalf of client banks.
Burton and Bares, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in the SDSU department of mathematics and statistics, were selected as Capital Services fellows and have gone on to build in-demand careers with what they learned.
“We develop predictive models to help make smart business decisions,” Burton said. “So, the mathematics and statistics learned at SDSU, the applied and theoretical courses are directly applicable to our work. It was a great experience to work at Capital Services while going to school and to take the theoretical knowledge learned in classes and apply it sometimes in the same day at work through Capital Services.”
The fellowship provides tuition for the two-year graduate program as well as a stipend.
The relationship began in 2007 following a conversation between Capital Services president and CEO Chuck Hendrickson and Dr. Kurt Cogswell, head of the department of mathematics and statistics and a professor at SDSU.
The department was looking for a more focused approach to career readiness and regional relevance to the program, Cogswell said, and the support from Capital Services proved an ideal match.
“The first two fellows were extremely successful,” he said.
Those were Dr. Alfred Furth, who now serves as senior vice president of Capital Services, and Tom Brandenburger, now an assistant professor at SDSU.
Since then, other students have gone on to leadership roles at Capital Services and a wide variety of other areas businesses.
“You get really smart people that participate,” Cogswell said. “Then the financial support of Capital allows these people to focus on the task at hand rather than having to work second jobs to support their education.”
The business “provides an outstanding professional development environment for a year or two that gives them the sort of preparation you can’t obtain in a classroom,” he added. “And our faculty provide a really outstanding academic environment. So, we have got all the components put together and it is proven to be tremendous for our department, for the graduate fellows and we hope it’s been good for the region.”
Growing as graduates
For Burton, the fellowship led to a full-time job in 2012 and a promotion in 2018 to his current role as portfolio analytics and risk director.
The Yankton native had gone to SDSU knowing he liked math but not sure what major or career to pursue. After learning about the opportunities in the field and experiencing an internship at Capital Services, he found his future profession and now helps mentor other fellows.
A big part for everyone that’s involved is the mentorship, being able to talk to professors and have theoretical mentorship and talking to industry professionals,” he said.
“And growing up in Yankton, it’s nice to be close to family and Sioux Falls is a good-size city. There’s a lot of opportunity but not a lot of traffic, and the culture in the Midwest is very familiar to me so I’m happy to stick around.”
Bares, a Springfield, S.D., native, arrived at SDSU equally uncertain about what her future held. She began a graduate fellowship at Capital Services in 2009, graduated in 2011 and was hired full time. She spent two years there before returning to SDSU for her PhD, which led to her current role at Sanford Health.
After working with Sanford’s Profile program for her dissertation, she was hired in 2017 as a biostatistician and now is a senior biostatistician.
“We are a service that provides statistical help to researchers at Sanford Research and physician-initiated research throughout Sanford Health,” she said.
“It seems like it’s not really a typical path to go from the credit card industry to health care, but I really think the fellowship was great to be going through coursework and have a place to apply it sometimes in the same day. Some of what I learned at Capital applies to the health care system and some of the data we work with at Sanford. And … I’m able to bring new and innovative ideas to analyze data.”
Both graduates’ experiences meet broader goals for higher education, industry and economic development, Cogswell said.
“In the state of South Dakota, finance and health care are two very key players for our economy, and the methods Ryan and Valerie learned can apply pretty much across our economy,” he said. “You see our students taking those same methods and applying them in precision agriculture or in manufacturing or in hospitality or in transportation or sports analytics. The methods are fairly universal. The choice of career is up to the student.”
Building on success
The Capital Services fellowship program has been so successful, it is growing. The company and SDSU recently finalized a new three-year agreement that started June 22 and runs through fiscal 2023.
It will provide funding to two current faculty members and three graduate students, an increase of one student and one faculty member from what had previously been financed.
“We’ve been delighted to partner with SDSU for more than a decade in helping to develop some of the brightest minds in the Midwest. With the new agreement, we are able to increase the number of opportunities that can be provided,” said Furth, one of the original fellows now in leadership at Capital Services.
We love to see the success our Capital Services Fellows have had in their careers. The students we have funded are extremely intelligent and ambitious. The majority of their success is a result of their own hard work and dedication, but I like to think we had a small part in unlocking their talent for this discipline.
The new fellow will focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence with assistant professor Cedric Neumann, an internationally recognized expert in this area, as the named scholar.
“I think that it is a tremendous opportunity for our students and for local and regional businesses to work together on challenging problems that will have a positive impact on the economy of the region,” Neumann said.
The agreement, which kicked off June 22 to cover fiscal years 2021-23, is the type of partnership the university hopes to further develop with industry, Cogswell said.
“The beauty of the machine learning methods we’re developing and instructing students in area so applicable in so many areas of South Dakota’s economy,” he said. “It’s invaluable. Capital’s commitment to this and the effort they invested in developing graduate fellows has been remarkable. Many of these people stayed at Capital and have done tremendous work, but there is no expectation they will stay at Capital. For a company to have that altruistic approach is extremely admirable.”
But the majority of students coming through the program now stay in South Dakota rather than leaving for just elsewhere after graduation, he added.
“For me that’s the most personally satisfying part,” he said. “I love to see our graduates succeed anywhere, but I hate to see them go off to the coasts. And as of the last dozen years, two-thirds of our department’s graduates have stayed in South Dakota, which is remarkable because they have opportunities across the globe.”
Want to learn more about the Capital Services fellowship and related career opportunities? Visit SDSU’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics online https://www.sdstate.edu/mathematics-statistics