When you hear University of Lethbridge grad Casey Van Maanen (BMgt ’21) talk about his university experience, you quickly realize you’re speaking to a master of networking. Even before he enrolled as a finance major at the Dhillon School of Business, Casey was learning to use human connection to amplify success. And it’s something the faculty and staff in post-secondary see often—the correlation between student involvement and student achievement. Students that engage in experiential education programs like student clubs and specialty courses that give real-world experience often end up building better communities for themselves and discovering their strengths and passions more easily. This is how networking helped new grad Casey discover his true passions, build his confidence and skills and landed him one opportunity after another.

Networking and self-discovery

In high school, Casey was set on a career in neuroscience. That changed in the summer following his graduation, after he worked as a research student for his aunt at Colliers, a commercial real-estate firm. “In that short two-month period of time,” Casey says, “I met lots of people in the industry, we talked about interests and I [realized] I was better geared to a career where I could balance analytical and critical thinking with my eagerness to learn and connect with others.” After much exploration, Casey decided to pursue a business education in finance.

Wanting to stay close to home and knowing he wanted to take advantage of the smaller class sizes offered by the Dhillon School of Business, Casey enrolled at the University of Lethbridge. Initially though, his focus wasn’t on being involved in student activities and making connections with his peers. “My first year and a half I only cared about studying,” he says. “I focused solely on my grades thinking that would be deciding factor for my future career success and also worked part-time at TD Canada Trust as a bank teller.”

But after meeting others involved in student clubs and seeing what they entailed Casey said his perspective shifted and he decided to get involved. He started volunteering with the Dhillon Business Students’ Association (DBSA) and in his second year was selected as the Director of Finance. In his third and consecutive years Casey held on to this role, eventually moving up to the role of Vice-President Finance. He also joined the Finance Club, holding the titles of Executive Vice-President and President in his final years.

“I think the factor that helped me out in discovering where I wanted to go and what I wanted my career to be like was being able to join clubs and make connections with other students,” Casey says reflecting on his experience. “Meeting people not only in finance, but in accounting, marketing, just other disciplines, you get a perspective of where other people are headed too.”

Building confidence and skills through participation

Not only did student clubs help Casey explore his interests, they also gave him job-like experience and the ensuing confidence. Because of the smaller size of the student clubs and the accessibility to professors, Casey says trying out for a leadership role was more feasible than at a larger institution, and students like him were able to take ownership of their roles and grow their leadership skills.

“I value the boost in confidence [leading student clubs] gave me. I had been shyer and more reserved earlier in university,” Casey explains. “At a certain point though I realized that I wouldn’t get anywhere without proper experience. Employers are going to look for evidence of previous commitments, showing that you’re willing to stick your neck out, show initiative and challenge yourself.” Casey says there were many life lessons he took away from his club experience including learning to be collaborative, when and how to change direction and how to adapt to new situations.

In his fourth year, Casey also took a two-course program called Student Managed Investment Fund (SMIF). SMIF lets students get hands-on experience in the Dhillon School of Business academic trading room where they have access to global financial markets and manage investment portfolios currently valued at more than $150,000. Though Casey was already managing his own TFSA investments, he was excited to get feedback on his own investment theses from the investment professionals, legal experts and faculty members on the advisory board. “I wanted to learn to properly managing a portfolio,” Casey says, adding, “I still talk about the experience with the people I connect with. It’s tangible experience I can speak to.”

That year Casey also met with Dhillon School Associate Professor of Finance and Finance Area Chair Dr. Vishaal Baulkaran. He asked Dr. Baulkaran after one of his classes if he needed any research assistants and soon found himself handling the collection of data pertaining to two separate projects on corporate governance. The experience helped Casey learn to evaluate executives and board members on their merits and overall compatibility to an organization,
giving him an invaluable tool for his own personal portfolio. “We developed a skills matrix to properly assess the competencies of each member of a company's corporate structure. I continue to use the matrix as an analysis tool to determining quality investments.”

Connecting to job opportunities

Early on in his post-secondary journey Casey started strategically connecting with others outside of school through LinkedIn. It wasn’t initially a quest for a job, though Casey knew good connections could lead to this, but more to explore careers that existed in the field of finance. After creating a LinkedIn profile Casey started to connect with not only his peers but local Lethbridge professionals, meeting with around 20 to 25 professionals in his second year alone.

Casey’s habit of connecting with others paid off after touring the UC Berkeley campus while on vacation. He decided to check to see if any of their alumni had made their way to Alberta and ended up meeting with a director at the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) in Edmonton. After learning about the company’s culture as well as student internship opportunities, he applied to and accepted an offer to join AIMCo’s Client Relations department as a summer student. Once Casey was at AIMCo, he scheduled coffee meetings throughout the week with members of the company who had commonalities with or who he thought might share their unique experiences with him. “Every opportunity I got in school, every job or opportunity I have ever gotten,” Casey remarks, “is because of connecting with someone.”

When the pandemic started, Casey said that many student opportunities vanished and he found himself worrying about landing an internship for the following summer. He stayed in touch with some of his former AIMCo colleagues throughout the school year, believing it would give him a better chance of rejoining the organization despite the limited student opportunities. Casey received a return offer with AIMCo, this time in Client Analytics & Reporting. “I believe my network connections and drive to build on my previous internship experience got me the opportunity,” he says.

Investing in the future

While Casey is still exploring the avenues that exist in the finance world, he is looking forward to some exciting upcoming opportunities. Casey has accepted an invitation to join a venture capital accelerator program at VU Ventures in San Francisco, which starts this September. Being able to combine his passion for investing and explore a newfound interest in business startups was something that resonated with him when submitting his application. He hopes to make connections in San Francisco through this accelerator program and establish himself shortly thereafter in the city he says has always felt like a second home.

Thinking back, Casey says reaching out to others or tackling new opportunities didn’t come without challenges and he’s worked hard to overcome his own discomfort. “Behind that discomfort, you’re getting a renewed sense of self,” Casey says, “and I find that’s where improvement comes from.” Ultimately, it was the sense of community that really made a positive difference in his education at the Dhillon School of Business. The initiative he took to get to know professors, get involved with clubs and experiential opportunities provided him with a wealth of knowledge. And finding community and connecting with peers, professors and professionals in the industry is something he recommends students do to enhance their experience. “I definitely think who you know and how you present yourself are your biggest assets as a student,” Casey says.

The Dhillon School of Business at the University of Lethbridge is known for its immersive experiential learning opportunities, connecting learners with industry, its supportive, personalized approach and for exposing students to emerging technology. Study options available in both Lethbridge and Calgary.