Stepping into STEM


by Jess Nickels ('21)

Students in the Gaglioti Capital Markets Lab, where QFIN students are taught.

SUMMARY: The quantitative finance program is considered a STEM major and students can reap the benefits.

The quantitative finance (QFIN) major in JMU’s College of Business is considered a STEM program by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. QFIN earned this designation at the beginning of the fall 2021 semester, and with that, new opportunities for students have opened up.

Hui Sono, finance professor and academic unit head, said, “The quantitative finance program, which is an interdisciplinary major with many courses co-listed with the math department, is a highly structured program requiring minors in both mathematics and economics.”

The change in QFIN’s designation now allows many students to apply for STEM-based scholarships and this can have a direct impact on international students' choice to attend JMU. 

Illia Podafiei (‘22), was an international student from Ukraine. He chose JMU because it offered programming that suited his educational desires. “I always liked math in high school and quantitative finance seemed like the most complicated application of it. I wanted the challenge.  


Sono explained, ”The focus of the curriculum is on the application of mathematics and statistics to the finance industry, including financial mathematics in stochastic processes, computation and simulation in security pricing, and an integration of knowledge in financial markets, economics, and mathematics in general.

In addition to STEM-based scholarships, the U.S. government has shown a renewed interest in promoting STEM-specific programs to ensure that the marketplace has enough workers in these specialized fields. Specifically, the government has enacted visa programs that offer international students with STEM degrees to stay in the U.S. workforce for a period following graduation. 

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, “Certain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion optional practical training (OPT).” 

“I was specifically looking to get into a program like this one and not a lot of places offer it,” said Podafiei. “Since I am from Ukraine, I also wanted a school that would help me transition smoothly and JMU offers international students many opportunities to integrate.” 

A STEM designation opens the door for many students who otherwise may not be able to attend JMU, or stay in the U.S. long enough to pursue a career in their given STEM field. Sono said, "Less tangibly, but I think crucially, it signals to those interested in math and computer sciences that the major has the technical qualities they find interesting."

“If I studied regular finance I wouldn’t have as deep of an understanding of topics, especially derivatives. There are areas of finance that focus heavily on math, but it’s the combination of finance and math that gives me a better understanding of the topics that I chose to study,” said Podafiei.

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Published: Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Last Updated: Monday, January 8, 2024

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