Student Day Trader Endows Award

September 26, 2002

Mary Ann Travis

My talent is daytrading," says Timothy Sykes, a Tulane College junior. Sykes is among a handful of shrewd players who successfully make daily bets on the stock market. It's a risky business, but a lucrative one--if you're talented. But even if the stock market is going down, a skillful and bold day trader can still make money.

"There's always opportunity," says Sykes, who has been able to amass a small fortune even in the bearish market of recent months. Sykes has had so much success as an Internet day trader, working from his home in Orange, Conn., or his off-campus apartment on Audubon Street, that last spring he gave $15,000 to Tulane to endow the Timothy Sykes Daytrading Award for the Talented. Sykes hopes the yearly award will allow a Tulane student, faculty or staff member who has a special talent in any area to focus on that talent "without worrying so much about other stuff."

Sykes started daytrading when he was a senior in high school. The stock market was soaring then. "It was in your face." says Sykes. "So I was, like, maybe I should do that." Now, Sykes says, "Business is my life."

He likes to read business books for fun. And while he's minoring in business, he chose philosophy as a major "to learn something else, just to balance it off." Sykes originally wanted to name the talent award, Scholarship for Students Who Learn Good. But university administrators nixed that idea, he says. Sykes took Philanthropy in the United States in fall 2001.

The course, taught by Janet Harreld, assistant professor of theater and dance, was part of pilot program financed by an anonymous donor who allocated $1,200 for each student in the class of 15 to use for philanthropic donations.

"The donor who supported the course wanted to find a way for the next generation of leaders to engage in philanthropy," says Harreld. "It was an opportunity for the students to be cash philanthropists and to learn how to be good philanthropists."

The course addressed reasons to be a philanthropist, including tax breaks and humanitarian concerns. Harreld says the course explored how philanthropy in the United States is different than in any other country in the world.

"In other countries, the government does the charitable work," says Harreld. But in the United States, philanthropists are the ones who support the arts and other nonprofit, charitable organizations. Harreld says the American pioneer heritage and tradition of helping one's neighbor underlie the philanthropic culture.

Sykes donated his allocation to Make a Wish, an organization that grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses. The course put Sykes on track to becoming a philanthropist. "It taught me everything," says Sykes. "So, good job, Tulane."

A main issue for the budding philanthropists in the class, says Harreld, was determining the behavior they wanted to encourage by their philanthropy. The money that Sykes gave to endow the talent award was all money he'd made day trading, says his mother, Jo Ann Sykes. She was somewhat surprised by his gift.

But, then again, she says, "Nothing he does surprises me. He is an amazing kid. And I'm not just saying that because I'm his mother." Not all parents are supportive of their children's "weird" talents, says Timothy Sykes. "Parents think you need to be a doctor or lawyer to make money." People with unusual talents "get left out," says Sykes, whose award is not restricted for any purpose. "The money could be used for food or rent or whatever."

The award will first be granted in spring 2003. Applicants will write essays "saying why they should win, describing their talents and what they need the money for," says Sykes. Sykes says he doesn't believe in limiting awards to any college or gender the way most awards are. "This is for all talented people."

Mary Ann Travis may be reached at

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000