There's a lot of interest in the potential of blockchain, especially among students who are preparing for the business world of the future.

Getting an education in blockchain

A student-run initiative sets out to provide students with an understanding of blockchain and its potential to revolutionize the business world.

At first, Rutgers Business School sophomore Christian Buren tried teaching himself about blockchain with free online courses and YouTube videos.

The finance student, who has an entrepreneurial streak, soon decided maybe there was a better way.

“I had an idea in my head that something bigger could be created here,” Buren said.

With the support of Dean Lei Lei and a handful of administrators and professors, Buren is now busy laying the groundwork for the Rutgers Business School Blockchain Hub, an initiative that resembles a combination of student club and meetup.

When it officially launches in the fall, the blockchain hub will offer informal workshops taught by Ph.D. accounting students whose research focuses on blockchain. It will also provide students with access to online courses, visiting speakers and events – from conferences to blockchain-themed hack-a-thons.

“I said to myself no student should have to do this alone,” Buren said. “There should, at least, be a network of students who want to help one another learn this. Blockchain is this amazing emerging technology.”

“In one way or another,” he said, “it will be central to some very important business processes in the near future.”

Buren is working closely with a small group of other undergraduates, including freshman Varun Vasudevan, who is interested in technology and fascinated with the novelty and potential of blockchain.

“There are pretty much endless possibilities of what you can do with this technology,” Vasudevan said.

Think of blockchain as a digital ledger. Complex and sophisticated, the technology is capable of recording and storing transactions in blocks assembled into a chain of related transactions. One of the key benefits of the technology is its ability to replace current processing systems that carry out similar transactions for a fee. While its origins are tied to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, the technology’s potential is considered to be much broader.

Early users of the technology are already putting it to use in supply chain management, accounting and finance, and Rutgers professors are among those researching broader applications for blockchain.

Rutgers Business School students create an initiative to provide others with knowledge of blockchain.
Rutgers Business School students Varun Vasudevan and Christian Buren.

Vasudevan, who has an interest in computer science as well as business analytics and information technology, already aspires to work in a blockchain startup or a large company that’s using blockchain.

For him, the blockchain hub not only offers the promise of more knowledge about blockchain, but also the prospect of networking with people in the field, practical experience through competitions or internship opportunities.

As Buren sees it, the initiative will provide an educational resource, offering Rutgers students a mix of information, including basic concepts, the technical aspects of blockchain, and its business applications.

“This is an initiative by students for students,” he said. “This is not an investment club. We’re investing in knowledge."

Buren’s efforts to build interest in the initiative will be complemented by a one-credit course, “Special Topics in Business Operations” Rutgers Business School will offer to sophomores in the fall.

Martin Markowitz, senior associate dean at Rutgers Business School-New Brunswick, said the Tuesday evening course will be open to students in New Brunswick and Newark. It will cover topics such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and cloud computing. “This will be the beginning,” Markowitz said.

Vasudevan said he hopes that as students learn more about blockchain and its possible applications, there will be enough interest to create a team of students who are interested in the development side.

In addition to Buren and Vasudevan, the initiative also has an executive board with three student officers. By the start of May, 379 students were signed up to participate. 

Even at this early stage, Buren has attracted the interest of the founder at tZERO, a technology company and global leader in blockchain innovation for capital markets. Buren is hoping tZERO executives will be willing to visit Rutgers as guest speakers and will connect the Rutgers Blockchain Hub with their networks.

“The space right now is evolving rapidly. Every week, every other month, new innovations are coming out so one of the ways we’re hoping to stay on top of this, is through our relationship with tZERO,” Buren said.

For Rutgers Business School Professor Won Gyun No, who is doing research on blockchain’s use in auditing, the formation of Rutgers Business School Blockchain Hub is a reflection of the students’ keen interest in the technology’s potential.

No will be working with the students as an advisor. “These students are thinking about how blockchain will change the future,” he said, “and how they can be prepared for the future.”  

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