When you think of commodity trading, you think of a busy trading floor with loud shouting and chaos among the traders.

This year marks the ten-year anniversary when the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics started its own ‘trading room’ experience born from an idea from a special alumnus.

Bruce Holland ’70, graduated with a degree in agricultural economics, and his wife, Debbie, reached out to the department to create a learning experience for students to use financial derivatives in commodity markets.

The program was created with Hollands’ support and that of the Virginia Tech Foundation. The organization began with four students and two faculty advisors, investing in four commodities: corn, soybeans, wheat, and livestock.

Today, under the direction of Olga Isengildina Massa, AAEC professor, the group has grown to over 40 members, increased its portfolio to over $1.2 million, and includes three faculty advisors, 14 commodities, and a quantitative research division.

“The hands-on experience is unlike any other organization of its kind where students get to apply concepts and theories learned in the classroom,” said Massa. “I have always had an interest in commodities and I love that I get to teach it in such a creative way.”

Recently Massa was named the John B. and Kristi L. Rowsell Professor by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors. The professorship is established by John and Kristi Rowsell, both alumni of the department, to support faculty leadership of the program. 

“This program would not be where it is today without the support of the Rowsells. I am deeply honored to be named the John B. and Kristi L. Rowsell Professor for this organization,” said Massa.

"The most important asset any department has is its faculty. Since Olga joined the department in 2015, she has grown COINS to impressive levels. The professorship will allow her to continue to lead the nationally recognized program. For these reasons and more, we are profoundly grateful to the Rowsells," said Matthew T. Holt, department head and professor.

The students

This year, 33 junior members have been selected to join COINS out of over 140 applicants.

Junior members must successfully complete a training program offered in a hybrid format from October through March. If they pass, then and only then, do they become analyst members and start their experiential journey in commodity markets.

Members will be trading various futures-based ETFs and ETNs across three sectors: agriculture, energy, and metals. In addition, they will be conducting market research, tracking the profitability of their market positions, and reporting on their commodity performance.

This exposure and mentoring by COINS’ newly formed advisory board members are why the organization has a 100% job placement.

Unique for an investing group, COINS attracts members from across campus, including finance, computer science, engineering, and other majors. This has led to members finding employment in all types of industries ranging from hedge funds, commodity trading, sales and trading, and wealth management to software engineering, and more upon graduation.

“What makes COINS so special is member success extends far beyond the classroom. Our alumni have gone on to hold positions at many prestigious organizations across several industries. Each year more and more of our students enter the work world, further expanding the COINS footprint. It's exciting to think about the impact our alumni will continue to have in the coming years,” said Robert D’Angelo ‘19, Advisory Board Chair. 

Our alumni

Adeline Douglas (Addie Guthrie), ‘17, pictured left is with Sara Wynkoop, sugar analyst.  Photo courtesy of Katie McGroddy ’21.
Adeline Douglas (Addie Guthrie), ‘17, pictured left is with Sara Wynkoop, sugar analyst. Photo courtesy of Katie McGroddy ’21.

COINS alumni, faculty, and members gathered at the Holtzman Alumni Center this November to celebrate the 10-year milestone. Today, the organization has over 60 alumni who have gone through the program. “We look forward to having other opportunities for our alumni and students to interact with each other,” said Massa.

“Reconnecting with fellow COINS members at the 10-year anniversary was such a blast! It is inspiring to see how much the organization has grown and the advancements that classes after me have made. I personally was awed by how much female membership has grown since my years of involvement. I had a great time celebrating the success and already am looking forward to the next alumni gathering,” said Adeline Douglas (Addie Guthrie), ‘17.

COINS is always looking for industry guest speakers. To learn more about COINS or if you are interested in sharing your industry knowledge, visit https://www.coins.aaec.vt.edu.

By Melissa Vidmar