Growing up on two continents, Azizat Balogun began to notice how finance affected so much of her life.
“I reflected on my experiences in Nigeria where I always tried to understand and comprehend exchange rates as I traveled back and forth.”
Balogun moved to Chicago with her family as a child and soon found opportunities to pursue her curiosity about foreign exchange and global relations. Those included two programs in high school and college aimed at helping students pursuing STEM careers, then a scholarship aiding historically disadvantaged students – all initiatives supported by the CME Group Foundation.
Finally, Balogun interned at CME Group in client development and sales in the summer of 2023, an experience she calls “very enriching.”
Balogun, who will graduate from the University of Illinois-Chicago with a degree in finance and international business, credits the internship as a critical part of her educational journey.
“I constantly asked questions about things I didn’t understand,” she said. “I believe that attitude will definitely play a key role in helping me have a successful finance career.”
That finance career is set to continue at CME Group, where Balogun has accepted a role as an equity analyst, starting in January 2024.
She credits a proactive approach to networking that helped her find new opportunities at CME Group. “I didn’t hesitate to reach out to professionals and was not too shy to express my interests," she said.
$3 Million Awarded
Balogun’s comments, which came as part of an interview with CME Group Foundation Executive Director Eva Giglio, underscore the marketplace's efforts to support historically disadvantaged students through a growing scholarship mission. Since launching in 2019, the CME Group Foundation Scholarship program has awarded $3.1 million to 87 college and graduate students.
While many scholarship programs help freshmen begin their college careers, the Foundation works to ensure that upperclassmen have the resources to allow them to finish their degrees. In August 2023, it awarded 18 underrepresented students majoring in finance, technology and related fields with $20,000 each in scholarships. With these new recipients, the Foundation is currently providing scholarships to 33 college students this academic year.
These are students who may not otherwise have exposure to the financial services sector or access to professional mentors already working in the industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black and Latinx workers represent just 7.2% and 7.9%, respectively, of the U.S. securities, investment and commodities workforce.
The CME Group Foundation Scholarship Program provides members of these communities with an opportunity to earn their degrees debt-free, while also offering career development opportunities, like the internship Balogun completed during her senior year.
“I gained a deeper understanding of the derivatives industry and market dynamics," Balogun told Giglio during their taped discussion. "I also learned the importance of data-driven decision-making processes. My managers and supervisors offered a lot of resources, support and guidance.”
But it wasn’t just Balogun’s internship or even her scholarship that helped give her a leg up. She’s also been involved as a volunteer in two other Foundation partner programs – Project Exploration and STEAMbassadors. The first initiative aids K-12 students traditionally underrepresented in STEM, while the second supports college-going 18-24 year olds majoring in science, technology, engineering, art and math.
Balogun started as a youth mentor with Project Exploration, teaching computer science to third through fifth graders. She admits it wasn’t an easy project at first, but by introducing fun and interactive learning activities, the children started to more fully participate.
“I was able to increase their engagement,” Balogun said, “and develop problem solving and innovative thinking skills.” They’re all lessons that she sees as applicable to her future career.
As for STEAMbassadors, Balogun viewed volunteering there as a good opportunity to develop her leadership skills. But the program’s focus on increasing diversity in STEM resonated with Balogun “as a professional seeking a career in a field which does not have a high representation of people who look like me,” she said.
At UIC, Balogun has continued this mission, serving as the director of student and alumni relations on the executive board for Black Students in Business, where she’s a role model and resource for other students.
Giglio asked Balogun what advice she would give another young person interested in pursuing a similar path.
“My advice would be to reflect on your personal experiences growing up and analyze your strengths and weaknesses,” Balogun said. “Don’t be shy to reach out to mentors in your desired field, and trust in your potential and abilities.”
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