For some, Michael Milligan is a finance professor at Mihaylo College. For the select students in his Applied Securities Analysis Program (ASAP), he may be known as a mentor who pushes you to think and apply knowledge to real-world situations with real money invested in stocks.
Regardless of how you might know him, Milligan’s unique history proves he is much more than just another college professor.
Before entering the world of academia and coming to Cal State Fullerton, Milligan was a professional athlete: In 1983 Milligan was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers from Tennessee State.
Although he jokes that “this interview is actually going to last longer than my career,” Milligan played for the 76ers on and off for two years.
After his stint as a professional basketball player ended, Milligan went back to complete his undergraduate education. While working toward his degree, Milligan began working part time for a small brokerage firm, which would shape the rest of his professional life.
“I realized when I started working there that I liked the investment industry,” he says.
Upon graduating, Milligan had a job lined up on Wall Street with Dean Witter, where he worked for several years as a stockbroker.
Eventually Milligan left his work on Wall Street and managed his own hedge fund for a decade. After all his time in the finance and investment industry, Milligan’s unique story took another turn, one that ultimately led him to where he is today: He moved to Los Angeles and enrolled in graduate school to get his MBA.
“After I got my MBA, I was about to start another hedge fund, and I literally said, ‘I’ll take a job as a teacher, which will keep my mind sharp, because my students will always challenge me,” he says. “I figured it would take me about a year to get the hedge fund up and running.”
The teaching job he took while he planned his hedge fund company was at Cal State Fullerton in 2004 – and, he’s still here.
“Typically, when I do something, either I enjoy it and I keep doing it, or I don’t, and I move on,” he says. “I found that I enjoy teaching. I don’t feel like I’m working.”
Milligan scrapped the hedge fund company he was planning, and today as a full-time finance professor, Milligan strives to be the kind of teacher that he would like to have.
“I had one professor who, I think, his whole goal in life was to prove how smart he was and how much we didn’t know,” Milligan recalls.
Obviously impacted by the type of instructor he did not want to be, Milligan pursues a different course of action when teaching his own finance courses.
“I do have a passion for finance and what I teach. I think that’s what comes through,” he says. “I just try to make my classes as realistic as what students are going to see in the workforce.”
Part of the real-world preparation that students experience comes into play with his ASAP course.
“It’s not like a typical class. You can’t just go grab a text book, read it and say, ‘Okay I got this,’” says Milligan of ASAP.
Students who apply and are accepted into the two-semester program invest, trade and sell stocks with real money, which has been provided by donations.
As the instructor for the class, Milligan gives the students “very little guidance.” He allows the students’ personalities and thoughts as entrepreneurs to develop with each proposal they submit.
One of the things he enjoys most about his job is seeing the growth in his students, particularly their level of knowledge regarding real-world situations.
“Just to hear them talk about it, the language, the enthusiasm, the knowledge – I just get a real kick out of it,” he says.
Although his career path took him from professional basketball player, to stockbroker to running his own hedge fund, Milligan seems to have found his true calling at Mihaylo.
“I always try to teach the class that I wanted to take,” he says. “My goal is not just to educate but to prepare, and I get a kick out of it when I find out that they’re educated and they’re prepared.”