Mays underclassmen took away nearly $6,000 in prizes last week in a trading competition piloted by BP as a recruiting and relationship-building tool that helps identify talented students.

The internal competition at Mays’ Reliant Energy Securities and Commodities Trading Center is the first of its kind for BP. More than 70 students — mostly freshmen and sophomores — executed simulated natural gas futures trades based on mock news feeds designed to influence trading behavior in the energy sector. In hour-long sessions in three separate rounds, students traded contracts based on the relevance of the news, such as a familiar scenario in which a hurricane is threatening oil production in the Gulf Coast.

Sophomore business majors Emily Merin and Erin Thomason, junior finance major Sean Shannahan, and junior finance majors Alex Forshey and Brian Ramos took 1st place in their rounds, each winning a $500 scholarship. Second and third place winners received iPod Nanos and $150 gift certificates to Best Buy.

In the 2007 competition, slated for February, the grand prize could grow substantially from this year’s scholarships. BP expects to invite top winners to fill internships on the natural gas and power trading floor of BP America’s Houston office.

The trading simulation at Mays is the first BP has held at a university that all business students could compete in. It’s a potential recruiting tool that BP’s integrated supply and trading division, a leader in the natural gas and power trading industry, also expects to take to the University of Texas, Rice and UH.

“The biggest problem we’ve seen in recruiting, even with the best students, is that they still ask, “What would I be doing at your company?'” says BP Trader Aaron Hall. “The trading competition really targets for us students who are going to be interested in what we do, as well as those that have an aptitude for our business.”

Students benefit not only in the experience of executing trades in a competitive situation, says finance professor Detlef Hallermann, but with exposure early on in college to trading careers and to professionals at BP. Of the 10 new analysts hired for the BP trade floor in 2006, six were Aggies.

“This competition furthers the relationship between A&M and BP in terms of providing students that can fill the need for the future,” says Hallermann, also co-program leader for the Reliant Trading Center. “A&M is providing students that can hit the ground running at BP.”