Jerry Caruso

Investing in the future

After a career in business, Jerry Caruso, ’15, gained the skills to teach in a global classroom

Jerry Caruso, ’15, is at home in the Carlson Funds Enterprise lab. Surrounded by computer screens reading out up-to-the-minute stocks and prices, he works with graduate and undergraduate students from around the world as managing director of the enterprise.

Just a few years ago, Caruso was a long-time Wall Street investment banker in downtown Minneapolis. But after a full career, he was interested in trying something different. Invited to speak at the University’s Carlson School of Management, Caruso gave some successful guest lectures on mergers and acquisitions, his area of expertise. He was a natural, he was told.

Yet when a full-time position opened and Caruso was encouraged to apply, he didn’t have confidence that he really understood how to teach in higher education.

“I didn’t fully know how students learn today compared to when I attended college,” he says. “The world has changed. There is more information and technology at students’ fingertips. Teachers are no longer the conveyors and center of all information and knowledge. Google has changed that.”

When Caruso got the position, he began to attend workshops at the U and at Harvard.

“I was seeking foundations for my own transformation as a teacher, to become a better teacher here at Carlson,” he says.

Then Caruso learned about the master’s program in multicultural teaching and learning in CEHD. He took courses from Karen Miksch and Bob Poch, applied to the program, and began on its track over the next two years.

Transformation as a teacher

As a senior lecturer on the Twin Cities campus’s west bank, Caruso was directing the Carlson Funds Enterprise and teaching courses on mergers and acquisitions.

As a student in classes on the east bank, Caruso was studying educational psychology, soaking up student-learning theory, and learning the language of higher education. For his thesis, he designed a qualitative study to improve the experiential learning program he directed.

Jerry Caruso teaches and mentors students from around the world in the Carlson Funds Enterprise lab.
Jerry Caruso teaches and mentors students from around the world in the Carlson Funds Enterprise lab.

Carlson Funds Enterprise is one of the oldest and largest student-managed funds in the country. It is also a real $35 million fund, with outside investors and a board, rather than an endowment. All Carlson School MBA and undergraduate students who participate spend more than two semesters in the Funds program and many land jobs in the local financial community.

Caruso completed the Institutional Review Board application to conduct research involving human participants with support from his adviser, Rashné Jehangir, and educational psychology professor Frances Lawrenz. Then, over two months, he interviewed 18 former participants in the Carlson Funds Enterprise, alumni who had been out of school three to five years. In one- to two-hour interviews, he asked them what they remembered learning and how they were applying it.

He also spent more time with students currently in the program and talked to higher education peers around the country running similar funds. He used NVivo software to help analyze his data. Then Caruso wrote “Examining the Carlson Funds Enterprise Curriculum for Today’s Students.”

“With my thesis and through the whole program, I wanted to advance the Enterprise experience,” he says. “It helped me understand nuance and what students remember and use from our program to advance their careers.”

Investing in stock in a company that makes heated seats for cars and wants to expand into Asia, for example, looks different to someone from Minnesota or New York than to someone from Vietnam or India. About a quarter of the current Carlson Funds Enterprise cohort is international students and students of color.

“They all learn from each other,” says Caruso. “I work on creating a collaborative and active learning environment, with forum posts and communications beyond the classroom, including using Moodle or Flipgrid to get everyone’s voices.”

“We’re talking about global companies solving global problems with global implications. Helping students to think and act globally is important to me and the students. My CEHD master’s program has helped me do that.”

Caruso says former colleagues often ask him what it’s like to teach.

“They have some romantic idea of a professor out of a movie, standing in front of a classroom with all the students eager to hear every word,” he says. “I tell them it’s much harder than that—sometimes my days as a teacher make doing deals look easy. Teaching is hard work and requires humility and patience at all times. But the payoff is rewarding. I have worked with a total of about 500 students since I began teaching, and when I speak with them I can tell I made a difference.”

Next generation

Caruso’s first job was delivering the Wall Street Journal at the age of 10. It wasn’t long before he was reading it. At 12, he invested in a couple of local stocks that helped him pay for part of his college tuition.

A few years later, after undergraduate classes at Northwestern University in Chicago, Caruso spent afternoons in the Merrill Lynch waiting room.

“Some students went to the library,” he laughs. “I was one of the ones who went to watch the stock ticker.”

In the Carlson Funds Enterprise labs, Caruso is still watching the ticker, but now he’s watching the next generation, too. He views his role as coach and mentor as well as teacher—teaching students how to critically think and solve problems.

“Plus,” he adds with a smile, “now I have more empathy for my students because I just went through a degree program myself.”

Learn more about the master’s program in multicultural teaching and learning. 

Story by Gayla Marty | Photo by Susan Andre | February 2016