As President of the UCLFAA, Mark Howard volunteers his time and skills. This is his story.
“I had something of an ‘ah ha!’ moment at UCL. I suddenly realised just how much I didn’t know,” says Mark Howard (UCL Social Studies 1983). “If the world was my oyster, then that was the point I realized just how big the oyster really was.”
The youngest of four children, Mark had a sheltered upbringing in leafy New England and apart from trips into Canada, had never travelled outside the US. When Mark arrived at UCL in 1983 as a study abroad student for the third year of his Economics degree, it was his first taste of life abroad, his first experience of a large university, and his first glimpse of such a dynamic, diverse city.
Mark says that his fellow students at Ramsay Hall really made an impression. “Everyone on my floor was from a different country, and they came from every walk of life,” he remembers. “It taught me that mine was just one of many cultures, backgrounds and perspectives and it made me realize how many exciting things there were to be done with one’s life. It challenged me to think in a way I’d never done before.”
When he returned to the US in 1984 for the final year of his degree, it was as a stronger, more focused and more mature student. “As well as my academic achievement, UCL changed the direction of my life, it was such a positive experience,” he says.
UCL was the foundation
After completing an MBA at New York University, Mark built a successful career in investment banking at Lehman Brothers, Barclays Capital and BNP Paribas, where he is now Head of US Credit Strategy. “UCL made me curious, and curiosity is hugely important in credit analysis. My academic, writing and communication skills all come together in the investment recommendations I make for BNP’s institutional clients.”
And despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that he works in a high pressure environment, three years ago he reconnected with UCL through UCLFAA by volunteering to host a high-profile event in the city. “The event was for a political economist who was launching a new research centre at UCL, and I was keen to learn more about his area of research – the behaviour of fund managers and how psychology influences their trading decisions,” says Mark.
Volunteering his time and skills
Now President of the board of UCLFAA, Mark has a strategic view of what he can contribute. “The regulatory environment is becoming increasingly complex, so I can bring leadership and expertise gained from other organizations. And at a time when interest rates are so low and returns are very challenging, I can help UCLFAA generate higher, less volatile returns so there will more funding for scholarship and research.” Or in other words, a perfect matching of volunteer to a task that will continue to benefit UCL for many years to come.
As well as being important for UCL and for current students looking for jobs, volunteering also benefits alumni, both emotionally and intellectually: getting involved can be a welcome counterbalance to work and a great way of continuing to learn, as well as a conduit to rediscover old friends.
“I don’t live to work, I work to live, and some of the most enjoyable things I’ve done in the past decade have come from supporting organisations that have little to do with my day job,” says Mark. “The further you get from the class you graduated with, the harder it is to stay in touch and connected with the organization. But academic organizations can be very positive resources, particularly as people grow older and their interests morph.”
However, Mark says he is not unique. He believes most alumni have skills and experience that could benefit UCL – and that alumni will also enjoy the connection. “Most alumni want to reconnect with their university, with a period of root building, and although those roots might lie dormant, they don’t go away,” says Mark. “There are so many really exciting things going on at UCL that alumni are unaware of, and so many opportunities to contribute aside from providing money that are rewarding and enriching.
“UCL is a global university that is doing exciting and important work, not just for students but for society. Many people want to be smarter about issues ranging from neuroscience to ecology – areas where UCL leads the world and which are vital for us and future generations.”