Financial whiz reaps reward

River Hill High School senior wins $20,000 Citigroup Academy of Finance Scholarship


You don't have to be a financial genius to recognize that a $20,000 college scholarship is a good thing. But you do have to be a financial whiz to win the scholarship that River Hill High School senior Sagar Gupta has received - the Citigroup Academy of Finance Scholarship.

Each year, 20 students from across the country win the scholarship. And for the past five years, one of those students has been from River Hill High School.

That tradition is being continued this year by Gupta, who will use the money to offset the costs of attending the University of California, Berkeley, where he will major in economics and business.

Gupta, 18, said his long-term goal is to work for a technology company or be a "global investor with real estate."

He has been involved with the Academy of Finance since he was a freshman, and he is now president of the academy's Student Advisory Board. He is also statewide president of the Future Business Leaders of America.

"I kind of knew he was going to get it," said Mary Day, principal of the Applications and Research Laboratory, where the Academy of Finance is based. "He's one of the most outstanding students we've had in the academy."

Gupta was competing with thousands of Academy of Finance students from around the country - including several from Howard County - for the scholarship, which awards $5,000 a year for four years.

The scholarship also means Gupta will be paired with a Citigroup mentor and will be able to do an internship at a Citigroup subsidiary after his freshman year of college.

The Citigroup Foundation, a philanthropic arm of the Citigroup financial services company, and the National Academy Foundation have been giving the scholarships since 2000 to students who hope to pursue finance-related careers.

Gupta certainly qualifies. He has started a business, Sohan Sounds, which provides music and lighting services for events such as weddings. Gupta said he plays the dhol, an Indian percussion instrument. His company generally accepts assignments two to three times a month, he said, and it has been booked for events in Florida and other places.

Gupta plans to continue the business while he is in college to help pay some of his expenses.

The National Academy of Finance was started in 1982 as a public-private partnership that helped high school students learn about and prepare for careers in the financial field.

The program came to Howard County in 1999, Day said. It was offered at River Hill, Reservoir and Howard high schools until this academic year, when it was moved to the Applications and Research Laboratory, home to about 20 career academies, with topics ranging from computer networking to biotechnology, animation and nursing.

Rod Pratesi, an Academy of Finance instructor, said the move means that every high school student in the county is eligible to be in the academy. He hopes to see attendance increase, he said. The opportunity to win a $20,000 scholarship should be a big draw, he said.

Gupta said he knows all the previous River Hill winners, and he credits the Academy of Finance with turning out "successful kids." The academy has graduated 103 students since 1999, said Day, including 22 this year.

Gupta, whose father, Om, has a master of business administration degree, and whose mother, Jyoti, is a teacher, said he "really started getting interested in business" in 10th grade. The academy has helped him learn more about business and given him the tools he needed to start his company, he said.

Last year, he participated in an internship at Image XL, a Web site development company in Columbia. The internship, which is an academy requirement, "was great," he said. He focused on marketing, business development and sales. "It was a technology company, and that's why I really liked it," he said.

Another academy requirement is taking a business class at Howard County Community College. The class in entrepreneurship helped him with Sohan Sounds, he said.

"It helped me figure out the business plan and the marketing plan," he said. "You can see that everything's intertwined."

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