University of Northwestern – St. Paul welcomed four new full-time faculty for the 2021–22 academic year. Below is an excerpt of our interview with Jonathon Bartsch, assistant professor of Finance.
Jonathon Bartsch brings to Northwestern a wide range of expertise in financial planning, strategy, and management. He holds professional licenses, including FINRA Series 7 and Series 66, and several insurance designations, such as FLMI. Before joining UNW, Jonathon worked as a licensed financial advisor, providing retirement planning and wealth management services. More recently, he used his expertise to design insurance products for a nationwide company.
What is your role at University of Northwestern?
I joined the School of Business this fall as an assistant professor of Finance. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Accounting and my MBA from Northwestern. I’m happy to be back as a professor.
What courses do you teach?
I teach Wealth Management, a course that covers retirement planning, investment strategies, portfolio management, performance analysis, diversification and risk, asset protection, insurance, and real estate. I love teaching that class; the material comes naturally to me.
I also teach Money and Banking, which has a more economic focus. Students learn about financial markets, currency exchange rates, and international currency. We study the fluctuation of prices with supply and demand—such as recent fluctuations in the lumber market and the shortage of chips for cars—and how that affects the economy. I’ll teach a Supply Chain Management course next quad.
Northwestern is offering a new course this semester on Portfolio Research that I get to teach. It’s an incredible course for upper-level finance students presented in the format of a research practicum. The students do a lot of research outside of the classroom and, under my guidance, manage real money from the Northwestern Foundation.
The class is similar to a student investment club, but it’s done in the context of a course. The students gain real-world experience in setting up an investment portfolio, which will prepare them well for their careers. I’m excited to be a part of the course; it is what I would love to have done as a student.
Has accounting and finance always interested you?
I liked math in high school and thought business was cool. I wanted to find a way to combine math and creative strategy to accomplish a goal in business. That led me to enter Northwestern as a general business administration major.
After talking with faculty, I decided to switch to accounting. Accounting is versatile and is an opportunity to apply creativity to the strategy of business. As I approached graduation, I realized that finance was what I wanted to pursue as a career. I’ve appreciated the versatility of working in finance.
Did you step right into teaching after earning your degrees?
My first position after earning my undergraduate degree was as a financial advisor. I had to study for very comprehensive licensing exams to become licensed. The biggest exam is the Series 7, a six-hour exam that grills you on everything you need to know about stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and securities.
As a financial advisor, I helped people with retirement planning. I educated clients on ways they could improve their financial well-being, better plan for the future, and decide which retirement account to open. I helped them best position their finances for tax purposes and optimal risk tolerance.
I enjoyed meeting with clients and explaining why various strategies made sense. It was so satisfying to see the light come on in their eyes once they understood concepts that had been complex to them.
Were you in that role prior to joining the faculty of UNW?
No. While I liked helping and educating clients as a financial advisor, the job was heavy on cold calling and commission-based sales. I learned I don’t like prospecting and calling. So I changed roles within the investment world and became a phone-based consultant with TD Ameritrade.
The career trajectory I was hoping for at Ameritrade closed due to an acquisition. I pivoted and took a job with Physicians Mutual, an insurance company based in Omaha.
By that time, I had completed my MBA, so I had credentials that allowed for increased responsibility. My new position involved designing life insurance products. I worked hand-in-hand with actuaries—mathematically defining risks, discussing what kind of features we could package with products to make it competitive and profitable. I was making important decisions and products for the company. It was a great company and experience.
“Empowering students and guiding their educational and career journeys is something that’s far too impactful to pass up. God presented this opportunity to me in his timing, and I have learned that trusting God’s plan is always better than seeking my own.”
—Jonathon Bartsch, Assistant Professor of Finance
What inspired you to leave that industry and teach college students?
It wasn’t until early this year that I began thinking about becoming a college professor. Academics comes easily for me; it’s something I enjoy. But the idea of teaching didn’t come to light until I was in my position as a financial advisor; I loved educating clients on complex financial strategies.
It became clearer to me as I taught in church. I taught Sunday School, taught Bible lessons to kids in Awana club, and led a Bible study with peers my age. It was fulfilling for me to help people gain a better understanding of a concept until it makes sense.
I enrolled in a doctoral program to put myself in a good position for becoming a professor. Then Northwestern reached out to me. They asked, “Are you interested right now?” I thought teaching would come a lot later, but God dropped it in my lap much sooner. It was completely God’s timing.
So I’m currently teaching classes and taking classes. I attend online classes in a “Doctorate of Strategic Leadership” program. The program’s focus is on managing organizations and exhibiting leadership and influence in the best possible way. It’s about leadership through a biblical lens.
Is the biblical lens what made you choose Northwestern as an undergraduate student?
I had criteria that I was looking for in a college: strong biblical beliefs, good doctrine and theology, a strong business program, and a decent-sized city. I’m from Omaha, Nebraska. When I started visiting colleges, I knew I wanted to branch out away from home and go somewhere new—to a new city.
I looked at a few schools and University of Northwestern stood out. It met all my criteria and more. The business program was excellent and robust. I loved all the campus had to offer—the beauty of nature, the campus peninsula, the lakes, the sound biblical belief. And I loved the Twin Cities area; the cities have so much to offer. So I went with Northwestern, and I am so, so glad I did.
You said Northwestern met all your criteria and more. What are some examples of more?
The community of people was a bonus. When I formed my criteria for selecting a college, I hadn’t considered that. But I appreciated the people I interacted with when I visited Northwestern.
I came to Northwestern not knowing anyone. I was placed with random roommates, and it turned out great. I still keep in touch with my roommates; we are still good friends.
And there was good food! The Billy has really good food. One of my favorites things as a student was the omelet bar at Sunday brunch—or getting a big stack of waffles. My roommates and I would eat a big brunch together after church on Sunday mornings and then watch football.
I loved my experience as a student at UNW.
What drew you to continue at UNW for your graduate degree?
Northwestern’s School of Business has a program that allows some of your upper-level undergraduate courses to apply toward a Master’s in Business Administration. I was part of that program.
I completed my MBA online after moving back to Omaha. I had a very good experience with that, too.
What was your proudest accomplishment at UNW?
The most challenging classes in my undergraduate program were Intermediate Accounting I and II with Professor Elfstrum. A lot of students got scathing grades because it was so challenging.
I decided I was going to learn the material regardless of what it took. I put in hours outside of class to learn how to study—to learn how to learn. Mastering learning and figuring out the material enough to do it correctly on exams was such an accomplishment.
Overcoming a big obstacle by choosing to work hard was a milestone experience for me. It was a good character building moment.
What experience or expertise are you most excited to bring to Northwestern students?
Being both a licensed security representative and a licensed financial advisor means I know everything there is to know about stocks, bonds, and options strategies—basically, investment strategies and the mechanics of how that works. I am thankful I can bring all that knowledge to the classroom.
Beyond teaching the basic mechanics and functionality of how a financial instrument works, I can apply high-level scenarios of where students might want to use a particular instrument; why they’d want to use one instrument instead of another. Because of my experience, I can offer real-world knowledge that will serve students well as they pursue their careers.
What do you enjoy most about working with students?
I enjoy helping students realize their potential. Northwestern students are incredible men and women of God with sound biblical doctrine and integrity. They are very capable, with God-given skills and talents. It is so satisfying to help them recognize those skills, and to help them acquire new knowledge and learn new skills. To see a student suddenly get a complex concept is so satisfying.
It is a great privilege to equip students to be strong believers who can go on to make a significant impact in the business world; to do big things.
What are some examples of big things?
Students starting their own business. Showing integrity in a way that makes them stand out in a secular corporation. And stepping immediately into positions of higher responsibility because they were equipped well at Northwestern.
What is your favorite part about teaching in a Christian university?
It is important to integrate faith into any subject matter. With business, integrity is crucial. In investing, there are decisions about what to invest in and what types of activities to invest in that should be informed by biblical integrity. At Northwestern, I can teach integrity from a biblical standpoint.
In class, we discuss what the Bible has to say about wealth and money. Pastors often talk about how the love of money is the root of all evil. But God gives us the ability to manage money wisely and use it as a tool for good.
One Bible reference I like to share with students speaks of generous giving as spiritual gift. I encourage the business students to see their ability to make money as a skill from God and to recognize that generous giving is a spiritual gift. If their work is profitable, they have an opportunity to give and to bless people generously—to financially provide for others.
I remind the students that we should never find our identity in money. Money is a tool God provides for us to further His Kingdom. Our motivation is what is important. We’re sharpening our skills for the glory of God—to honor Him best, serve His Kingdom, and bless others.
Were you involved in activities outside the classroom when you were on campus?
Yes. One of my favorite activities was relaying plays and doing color commentary and public announcing for football and basketball games with the student radio station. (It was The Remnant at the time; it’s now called theMEL). It was pure entertainment and helped me build good community and lasting friendships.
I also played on intramural teams, was an AV services guy, and drove the campus shuttle. I really enjoyed that because it gave me an opportunity to have genuine, quality conversations with other students and get paid for it!
What do you do in your spare time now?
I like staying in touch with family, spending quality time with friends, playing board games. I like running when the weather is nice. I enjoy reading, finding good TV shows, planting gardens, and cooking. (I’ve used peppers and tomatoes I’ve grown to make my own salsa.)
What have you been reading or listening to that you’d recommend?
I typically read books on business, theology, and investing. But lately I’ve been reading classic fiction. One book I enjoyed recently was To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a good story with good morals.
I also listen to a podcast called The Journal. It’s a business podcast put out by the Wall Street Journal. They talk about current events and provide the educational context of stories—teaching the economics behind the events. I’ve used clips from the podcast in class; it’s really helpful for case studies.
What would you say to prospective families and students about UNW?
Students at Northwestern are able to have high quality relationships with professors. They pour into you as a person, in your faith, and for your career.
College is expensive, but it as an investment. The price you pay for college is an investment in your career and income potential. You’re also investing in the opportunity for professors to pour directly into your life—and for building a community with sound believers. The return in business skills, earning potential, being mentored, and developing lifelong friends is huge.
What piece of advice would you give to incoming freshmen?
I would encourage incoming freshmen to realize that they are capable. Some students see college as intimidating and academically rigorous. Many are nervous; that’s natural.
You are capable; don’t sell yourself short. Don’t be nervous. Have confidence in your own skills and abilities. There are things you don’t know yet and skills you need to learn. That’s why you are here. Put in the work, put in the effort, and have a teachable attitude.
What would you say to outgoing seniors?
I would encourage graduating seniors to keep their goals high. Keep shooting for big things.
This is only the beginning of your career. Don’t settle if you start out at a job that is mediocre. Pursue your goals even when there are roadblocks and obstacles. Find something fulfilling even if it’s not your first or second job.
Find something you enjoy doing and are good at, and do it for the glory of God.