ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
This week's financial meltdown was a big distraction in a lot of offices. But just imagine what it's like for students at business school watching their would-be employers go down in flames. NPR's Larry Abramson decided to find out.
LARRY ABRAMSON: Professor Elinda Kiss at the University of Maryland Business School can't rely on old lecture notes for her class on banking and financial institutions. She keeps her eye on the headlines, because the companies she's talking about might disappear before the week is out.
Professor ELINDA KISS (Finance, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland): All right, so Morgan Stanley and Wachovia's in talks. What's happened to Morgan's share price?
ABRAMSON: There are about 40 students, some in running shorts, others wear a coat and tie. They're all seniors, so their minds are fixated on the job market. Many business schools say with Wall Street in turmoil, they no longer have to look to the history books for examples of financial crashes. After class, James Muench says he doesn't need to be hit over the head to understand that the crisis is relevant to him.
Mr. JAMES MUENCH (Student, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland): Actually, I have an offer from Lehman Brothers that still stands, so I've been following the news. If I'm not in class, I'm pretty much watching CNBC all day to see what's happening between - the deal between Barclays and Lehman.
ABRAMSON: This is all news that parents are following closely as well.
Mr. DAVID BLANK (Student, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland): Definitely getting that call every day saying, so, what's the latest on the job hunt? Every day. Every day.
ABRAMSON: David Blank is a senior majoring in finance. He says he doubts he'll be able to move back to his hometown of New York to work on Wall Street. But Blank and James Muench view this as another opportunity to rise to the top of the heap.
Mr. BLANK: We're going to hit rock bottom, and then there's no ways to go but up. And it's just a matter of knowing when that's going to happen. And that's the toughest part.
Mr. MUENCH: All the people that are kind of shaky about it are going to back off in financials, and the kids that really want to pursue a career in it are going to stick with it. And in four years, the people that stick with it are going to be VPs, so.
ABRAMSON: Down the hall, some graduate MBA students view the crisis through another lens.
Unidentified MBA Student: I am pitching Sigma-Aldrich Corporation, ticker SIAL.
ABRAMSON: These are top students who manage a million-dollar investment portfolio, a pile of real money they must steer through a tanking stock market. Professor Sarah Kroncke says it's been a rough week.
Professor SARAH KRONCKE (Faculty Advisor, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland): Inside this calm exterior is a very panicked individual. (Laughing)
ABRAMSON: This group is focused on the long term. They can talk for hours about whether to add a single stock to their portfolio. But Ben Ju(ph), a member of the team, says this week they had to take drastic action.
Mr. BEN JU(ph) (MBA Student, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland): On Tuesday, we had a relatively lengthy discussion on what to do with Merrill Lynch and Wachovia, which we ended up selling. So with Merrill Lynch...
ABRAMSON: You sold all your holdings of those two stocks on Tuesday?
Mr. JU: We sold both of those holdings on Tuesday.
ABRAMSON: At biz schools around the country, the bad news from Wall Street has been hard to ignore.
Professor DAVID BEIM (Finance, Columbia University, New York): I would say the mood is very sober. I think, right now, the students are shaken by these events.
ABRAMSON: Daniel Beim teaches finance at Columbia University in New York. Beim says his students are also rethinking their career options, but he is not steering them away from finance. Instead, he's telling them there's a lot to be learned when financial schemes designed by whiz kids go up in smoke. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: His name is DAVID Beim.]
Professor BEIM: You should be willing to stand against the crowd. You should be willing to say, I know everybody is making a lot of money, and this looks like a great thing to do, but I'm worried that this may not make sense.
ABRAMSON: At nearby New York University, Professor Aswath Damodaran says for a long time too many students succumbed to the dream of becoming masters of the universe at the big investment firms.
Professor ASWATH DAMODARAN (Finance, Stern School of Business, New York University): We've drained corporations. We've drained businesses of their brightest talent and brought them to New York, and London, and Tokyo, and put them in investment banks.
ABRAMSON: Now, Damodaran hopes students will go where they are needed most, to mainstream American companies that are struggling to survive in a global economy. Larry Abramson, NPR News.