Risky Business: The Ups and Downs of Chapman Cryptocurrency

Maybe Chapman will have its own Bitcoin someday? Graphic by Nick Saikley.

It’s 4:44 a.m. and junior computer science major Darron Kotoyan’s eyes are glued to the screen.

Less than an hour earlier, a new currency was made available on the Ethereum server, another valuable cryptocurrency like Bitcoin. The more people buy a coin, the higher its value goes, so Kotoyan’s waiting until he can sell what he bought at a profit.

Fingers twitching, a sleep-deprived Kotoyan snagged at the cost of $100, shelling out some hard-earned cash from a part-time job in the admissions office.

By the time birds start chirping and the clock hits 7 a.m., Kotoyan’s initial $100 is worth $1,170.

Not a bad take-home for a 21-year-old.

What college student wouldn’t want an easy few thousand in the bank? It’s returns like Kotoyan’s that make cryptocurrency so attractive to a number of Chapman students, whether they want to get rich quick or turn their investing into long-term employment.

Some just want to capitalize on a growing wave to get rich quick. But others, like Kotoyan, want to turn that coin into long-term employment.

“I don’t have to panic about supporting myself,” Kotoyan said. “I need internships on my resumé for my degree, and I know crypto gives me the experience for it. And it means I don’t care if it’s unpaid.”

Darron Kotoyan checks how the crypto-market is doing. Photo courtesy of Kotoyan.

Kotoyan’s strength is coding, and he admits he doesn’t know jack about economics. He was convinced to begin buying by the success of his friends who had also delved into cryptocurrency.

One such friend is a former student at Chapman. Dominic, who didn’t provide his last name, first invested in a smaller cryptocurrency in March of last year. Even after his investments began to pay small dividends, he had trouble convincing others of crypto’s merits.

“The first time I told my mom about what I was doing, she was not happy,” Dominic said. “She hated the idea of me falling behind my friends, let alone not getting a degree. Honestly, the only way to convince her was to confuse her.”

Confusing her wouldn’t involve any lies or obfuscation. All he would have to do is explain how it works.

“When you start talking about anything more complicated than market theory or contracts, proof of work and proof of stake, people just go bleary-eyed,” Dominic said. “My mom let me talk for about twenty minutes, then assumed I knew what I was doing.”

If Dominic’s mother were more familiar with this online market, she might have been more worried. Dogecoin, Bitcoin and Ethereum are all digital currencies based on nothing concrete, no dollar or the pound sterling; in short, no actual money. This means that when Chapman students invest in it, they’re taking a big risk.

According to Gabriele Camera, professor at Chapman’s School of Business and Economics, cryptocurrency is not regulated, meaning it’s easy to get scammed.

“If I open an account with a bank, that’s an establishment I trust. I know the money they carry is legal tender, and it’s regulated by the government,” Camera said. “If I buy from someone on a server, I just have to believe they’re honest, which they might not be.”

Professor Gabriele Camera knows the risks of investing in cryptocurrency. Photo courtesy of Chapman University.

Noah Shaffer, vice-president of the Cryptocurrency Club on campus, knows why Chapman students are willing to face getting shilled.

“I know people in the club are doing it for the same reason I got started in it – it’s because of the freedom involved,” Shaffer said. “You don’t have to work from nine-to-five, you don’t have to deal with a boss, you don’t have to show up for work.”

The club began three years ago with two members, including Noah, and has since grown to nine. It’s made up of more than people who want to turn a buck while they’re young, though – organizers like Shaffer try to help students turn skills with digital currency into real-world chops.

“Companies want experience when they’re hiring, whether it’s data analytics or computer programming or the stock market,” Shaffer said. “Crypto gives you all of those skills.”

Chapman students work hard, and they ain’t stupid. They know that if you want to make good money without a job, cryptocurrency is a way to do it. You just have to brave the dangers involved. If you need a little help, the Cryptocurrency Club meets in the Argyros Forum every Wednesday at 7 p.m., and they can get you started.

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Huw is a junior Political Science major with Journalism as a minor. He is obsessed with White Russians, terrible slasher movies, and distinctive names (like Slartibartfast).