An Industry Leader Bridges Disciplines to Take on Blockchain

John Evans of Vanguard speaking into a microphone, joined by TD Bank Professor o

John Evans, Head of Blockchain Strategy at Vanguard, speaks at a Fintech conference, hosted in February 2020 by Drexel Solutions Institute, joined by TD Bank Endowed Professor of Finance Michelle Lowry.

A new course offered this winter — Blockchain in Capital Markets — took a truly multidisciplinary approach to teaching about the transformative impact of blockchain on the financial industry.

Vanguard’s Head of Blockchain Strategy John Evans led the course, bringing together subject matter experts across industries and Drexel University, including faculty from LeBow, the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering.

Offered through the Pennoni Honors College and coordinated by the Drexel Solutions Institute, the course was developed by Evans and Rajneesh Suri, PhD, LeBow’s vice dean for research and strategic partnerships, with curricular support from Lawrence Duke, EdD, clinical professor of marketing.

Evans led the majority of in-person class sessions and directed online student discussions through the social learning platform Yellowdig.

“This was a very dynamic role that had me connecting with a lot of people at Drexel and at Vanguard,” Evans says. “It was a good balance of being present in class and having the support of other professors and guest lecturers, so I could better interact with the students virtually.”

The course model and topic were a draw for many students, including Taylor Van, a junior majoring in finance and operations and supply chain management, who wanted to learn more about Bitcoin and the technology that enables its use.

“Having a professor from Vanguard seemed like a great opportunity to learn more about the application and realistic use of blockchain rather than a textbook definition,” she said.

Evans tasked students with analyzing the impact of blockchain technology from the perspective of one of five stakeholders: an issuer of securities, an investor, a bank, a regulator and a technology provider. After several weeks of grounding in the fundamentals of both finance and technology, academic experts from across Drexel provided supplementary material: examinations of investor behavior from TD Bank Endowed Professor of Finance Michelle Lowry, PhD; the societal impact of blockchain with Professor of Sociology Mimi Sheller, PhD; technological and cybersecurity approaches from Department Head of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Director of Drexel’s Cybersecurity Institute Steven Weber, PhD; and legal and regulatory aspects from Andrew Bull, MS, JD ’16, an alumnus of the Kline School of Law and the College of Arts and Sciences, who founded a blockchain-focused law firm.

“For this course, I had freedom conceptually for how to approach it, with Larry and Raj as guides, and for how to translate that into what students expect,” Evans said.

“There’s no one better to deliver this material,” said Suri. “John’s an expert in the field, coming from one of the leading firms in this area, and he’s a great person to lead a classroom.”

Jeremy Wik, a junior majoring in finance and business analytics with a minor in software engineering, said he found the focus on application across industries eye-opening.

“When I originally thought about blockchain, I only thought of cryptocurrency, but now I think of how it can transform capital markets, healthcare, banking, supply chain and countless other industries,” he said.

As Evans guided students from the scope-setting initial weeks of the course to a midterm paper and then to a final project with both written and oral presentation elements, he shared insights from his team’s work at Vanguard, which is focused on blockchain applications within the company’s large-scale operations.

“The success of this class demonstrates another unique way Drexel is bringing industry into academic spaces,” Suri said. “Vanguard is at the forefront of the financial markets, and students are really engaged by hearing what they do.”

Plans are underway to offer Blockchain in Capital Markets again, with Evans as instructor, through Drexel Solutions Institute and Pennoni, or in an expanded version as part of a new academic minor in financial technology, to be launched at LeBow in fall 2020.

“The students’ receptiveness and intellectual curiosity were exciting for me,” Evans said. “It’ll be really interesting to see where this goes from here.”

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