February marked the first time junior finance major Tracie Goodwin plied her skills on the trading-room floor, leaning over her laptop to make quick decisions about whether to buy, sell or hold onto natural gas futures.

Though she and a partner finished with a loss in the trading competition hosted by BP at Mays, Goodwin brimmed with enthusiasm about the experience. “This is for me,” she announced. “I definitely want to have a future in investments and trading.”

That’s just the kind of thing recruiters for BP’s energy trading floor want to hear. For the second year, BP returned to the Reliant Energy Securities and Commodities Trading Center in search of talented students who have an interest in energy trading. BP’s purpose is three-fold: “To expose students to the energy trading business, let them see who we are and what we do, and to see if there are any talented students for future consideration in our trader development program,” says Tami Joslin, BP’s graduate recruiting manager for its North American gas and power business unit based in Houston.

The internal recruiting competition at Mays’ Reliant Energy Securities and Commodities Trading Center was the first of its kind for BP last year. Returning in 2007 with a more sophisticated trading simulator, BP also added recruiting competition stops at the University of Texas, Rice and the University of Oklahoma.

In this February’s BP competition, 90 business students—mostly freshmen and sophomores—executed simulated natural gas futures trades based on mock news feeds that typically 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.

Overall winners were sophomore Chris Martin, who took first, and the teams of junior finance major Steve Teng and sophomore Kelly Corley (second) and junior accounting majors Natalie Minshew andStephanie Coco (third).

Finance students at Mays are already being trained for the type of securities and commodities trading that happens at BP, Joslin noted. “The finance program is so strong,” Joslin said. “We know these students are being exposed to what we do on a daily basis.”

The big picture for Mays professors is not only showcasing the best students to BP. It’s also about sparking an early interest in trading as a career, says Detlef Hallermann, program leader for the Reliant Energy Securities and Commodities Trading Center at Mays. “Competitions like this provide these students with the ability to understand trading and what it takes to become a trader,” Hallermann said. “In a one-hour simulation they get to get a feel for what it’s like to lose $1 million. They know then if they can handle the stress and joy of being a trader.”