Robert Fragasso, president of the investment management and financial planning firm, Fragasso Financial Advisors, was keenly aware of the problem he and many other small-business owners in the greater Pittsburgh area were confronting. Despite eight universities in a county with 1 million people, the supply of good, young talent seemed limited.

After contacting several local university career placement offices, Fragasso discovered they shared his frustration. "There was a mismatch and an absence of a forum," he explains. In a mature city like Pittsburgh, problems like labor shortages can sometimes prompt companies to leave town.

So Fragasso decided to do something about it. He established the Our Futures Project competition, a contest open to undergraduate students from western Pennsylvania colleges and universities. The winner would get a job in Fragasso's portfolio management department.

Participating students were assigned with the task of developing an investment and financial plan for Frank and Kathleen, a fictional 45-year-old couple with two children approaching college. The program ended up with 13 finalists from 4 universities; 40 students entered the program. Most were finance majors. Fragasso also discovered that, while these students had developed solid technical skills, many believed they lacked adequate preparation for real-world situations.

Finalists were evaluated on both their financial acumen and their presentation skills, according to one of the judges, Paul Shapiro, partner at vie LLC, a local consulting firm.

The winner, selected on March 12, was Damien Gottschalk, a senior majoring in finance and investment management who graduates from Duquesne University in May.

He will start his new job shortly thereafter.

Gottschalk had served two years in the United States Marine Corps and worked in the foreign exchange department at PNC Bank, and his maturity and presentation skills impressed the judges. "Damien's ability to take the case, break it apart and consider every single one of the components" was striking, Shapiro said. The second place winner, Matthew Meister, received $5,000, while the third place winner, Jeremy Barnyak, got $2,500.

Fragasso Financial Advisors manages more than $500 million in assets and employs about 30 people. Realizing that he may not have a position available every year, Fragasso has gotten other Pittsburgh businesses involved and hopes the program can expand going forward.