Proposed Investments in First Solar and Starbucks, paired with engagement strategies to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in company leadership and prevent sexual harassment and gender discrimination, highlight importance of ESG issues to the next generation of sustainable investors.

BOSTON, MA (MAY 3RD, 2023) – The Intentional Endowments Network announced today that student teams from Presidio Graduate School and Central Washington University were named the winners of the Student Corporate Engagement Challenge in the Graduate and Undergraduate category, respectively. 

Presidio Graduate School students, winners in the Graduate category, recommended an investment in First Solar, and proposed an engagement strategy to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in company leadership. 

Central Washington University students, winners in the Undergraduate Category, recommended an investment in Starbucks, and proposed an engagement strategy to prevent sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

The winners competed against six finalist teams for top honors. The Runner-up in the Graduate category was the team from University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business, and in the Undergraduate category was Virginia Wesleyan University.

The Challenge asks students to pitch an investment in a publicly-traded company, and include in that recommendation a shareholder engagement strategy focused on addressing an environmental, social, or governance issue where the company could improve in ways that would both enhance the value of the investment and drive positive impacts for society. 

“Study upon study has shown that increased diversity leads to increased financial success and better shareholder returns,” said Claire Nevels, an MBA Candidate at Presidio Graduate School. “Most importantly, greater racial and gender diversity is associated with enhanced creativity and innovation, better decision making, and improved social and environmental outcomes, which is critical to allow First Solar to continue to be a leader in addressing the complex and interconnected challenges facing our planet and society. This is not only crucial for First Solar’s bottom line, but also for creating a more sustainable and just future for all.”

"Our decision to focus on sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination in the workplace as part of our engagement strategy was instigated by our first-hand observations and experiences in the food services industry, where instances of sexual harassment are far too common," said Betty Mittelstaedt, student at Central Washington University.

The remaining Finalist teams were, in the Graduate Category, Columbia University and University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business, and in the Undergraduate Category, LeHigh University and Virginia Wesleyan University.

IEN’s Corporate Engagement Challenge is a semester-long program that includes education, mentorship, and hands-on investment and engagement strategy development for undergraduate and graduate students. 

“We’re proud to support the next generation of sustainable investors as they learn more about the positive and negative impacts of their investment decisions and how those relate to financial performance,” said Georges Dyer, Co-Founder and Executive Director at The Intentional Endowments Network. “Over $30 trillion is set to transfer to millennial stewardship in the coming years, and it’s more important than even to support millennial and GenZ investors in turning their interest in sustainable investing into a strong skill set.” 

As more investors see the need for thoughtful analysis of ESG risks and opportunities, investment management firms are increasingly looking to recruit talented graduates who understand both sustainability and fundamental investment practices.  The Challenge gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths in both areas, and show how interrelated they are. 

"The Challenge not only provided us with a challenging experience, but also sparked our interest in pursuing opportunities within the field of shareholder engagement, consulting, and ESG analysis,” said Jaap Donker, student at Central Washington University.

“The IEN Student Corporate Engagement Challenge provided us with the valuable opportunity to develop a comprehensive understanding of investment analysis and the investor engagement process. Getting hands on experience has demystified the process and empowered us to engage with investments beyond the numbers,” said Steph Motta, an MBA Candidate at Presidio Graduate School. 

Active engagement with portfolio companies on material ESG issues is an increasingly important aspect of investing and good fiduciary practice. According to the annual shareholder engagement report, Proxy Preview, “2023 is another record-breaking year, with more than 542 shareholder resolutions filed on environmental, social, and sustainable governance (ESG) issues. Hundreds of these resolutions are heading for votes at spring and summer corporate annual general meetings.”

“Publicly traded corporations hold immense power over our lives, our communities, and the environment, and changing how these corporations operate can transform our economy and society,” said Nicole Torrico, Program Director at The Intentional Endowments Network. “Engaging with corporations as shareholders is a powerful tool to address material risk factors relevant to long term financial performance, and to advocate for change and hold corporations accountable for meeting their commitments to address the biggest challenges of our time: racial inequity and the interrelated climate crisis.”  

A panel of judges selected the winners based on their presentations, fundamental financial analysis and ESG analysis, and the creativity and efficacy of the shareholder engagement strategy to both improve company financial performance and make a meaningful positive social or environmental impact.




See highlights from the winning team’s final presentations and here more about the Challenge by watching this video:

To receive a copy of the winning team’s presentations, or interview any of the participating teams and/or members of the IEN Team, contact Nicole Torrico, (207) 812 1589, [email protected]


The Intentional Endowments Network (IEN) supports higher education institutions in learning about and adopting investment strategies that create an equitable, low- carbon, and regenerative economy. IEN connects endowments, asset managers, investment consultants, nonprofit partners, and individuals, including a community of over 200 active members, to connect with peers, stay up to date on the latest best practices, develop partnerships, and advance the field of mission-aligned, sustainable investing.

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