Class of 2024: Finance major Christopher Bagenda becomes a bankable talent – VCU News

Before last summer, Christopher Bagenda’s only job experience was at grocery stores and gyms. But there he was, in New York City, starting an internship with global financial giant Citi.

“I came in knowing absolutely nothing,” the Virginia Commonwealth University finance major said. “I was very nervous my first couple of days.”

On top of that, of the 30 bank interns, most were from Ivy League schools.

“I’m around all these very highly qualified individuals who are the presidents of their schools’ investing clubs. They came from The Wharton School, a buddy of mine came from Cornell — like all these very well-known, notable schools,” Bagenda said. “And I was the only one there having to explain ‘Why Virginia Commonwealth University?’ and what Richmond was and all that. So I felt a bit insecure.”

Now? Not so much. Bagenda, who still works at the Cary Street Gym, impressed his directors so much that he received a full-time job offer upon graduating this May – an impressive next stop on what has been a global journey.

Bagenda and his family immigrated to the United States from Uganda in 2010, when he was about 7. He lived in Northern Virginia until coming to VCU. He considered studying psychology and then economics, because he liked the way “the markets, money and all those things work together,” he said.

But Bagenda became more interested in how people interact with money, how they can accumulate wealth and how money can be used to benefit people. He took finance classes as a sophomore and further explored personal finance, and he started investing more.

“And I really fell in love with it,” Bagenda said. “And I really just wanted to do that because I found the most joy in it.”

One class in particular – a business development course taught by Katybeth Lee, Ph.D. – cemented his emerging career path. It helped refine aspects of his professional presentation, from his appearance and résumé to his interview skills and elevator pitch.

A photo of a man leaning on a railing in front of a curved wall with an electric sign showing stock market updates.
During his internship at Citi in New York City last summer, Christopher Bagenda made a point of arriving early, leaving late and seeking out complex tasks. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

“Without her, I would not be where I am today,” Bagenda said. “It was after her class that I became a more sharp individual when it came to aspects of presenting myself.”

The course also gave him the confidence to apply for the Citi internship and for support from the Kevin Nicholson Internship Fund. VCU alum Nicholson, a leader at RiverFront Investment Group, established the fund to help students cover expenses related to their internships.

“I was not sure how I was going to be able to afford putting a deposit on a temporary apartment,” Bagenda said of moving to New York City. “I needed new clothes. I was a little bit tight when it came to finances.”

On firm footing there, Bagenda focused on his work. He would arrive before 8 a.m. – an hour or more before other interns – “and I was always one of the last ones to leave, because I wanted to take on more work. … I tried to take on more complex tasks that my director would pass on to the first-years.”

The internship gave Bagenda deep insight into corporate structure and finance systems, and when he returned to Richmond, he started an internship with Sen. Mark Warner, who serves on the Senate Finance and Budget committees. Bagenda’s job primarily entails casework, assisting fellow Virginians with issues involving federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.

He said he enjoys advocating for others – “It allows me to help people who … desperately need not necessarily money but assistance” – and he looks forward to advancing his career after graduation.

Bagenda said he is grateful that VCU offered an environment in which he could explore and find his passions. His advice? Don’t be afraid to try new things – which he will still do, even as he returns to familiar terrain at Citi.