One summer night in 2017, Alula Zeryihun, an accounting and finance student, and her friends were sitting around a bonfire when the topic of Bitcoin and “cryptocurrencies” came up. The students asked themselves many questions: what is cryptocurrency? What is Bitcoin? Is it a legitimate currency? Zeryihun thought, “We need to find out about this. We need to bring together experts and discuss cryptocurrencies and how they work.
Cryptocurrencies are digital tokens, hosted online, that can be bought and sold anonymously. Perhaps the most famous example is Bitcoin, which has generated a lot of media buzz for many reasons, mainly because its price has soared 900% over the past year. but what exactly is it? Nathaniel Popper, New York Times writer defines cryptocurrency as a “decentralized digital token – without physical media – that can be sent electronically from one user to another, anywhere in the world”.
Six months after the bonfire, Zeryihun, Santiago Cuevas, Manny Vergara and other members of the California State University, Northridge Latin American Professionals Student Association (ALPFA) brought together financial leaders, entrepreneurs and faculty for the campus’ first-ever Blockchain Summit on December 2 at the CSUN Student Union Grand Salon.
The topic of the summit was not only cryptocurrency, but also the technology behind cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, commonly known as blockchain. Simply put, blockchain is like an immutable ledger for all cryptocurrency transactions.
“I received a lot of advice from various professors,” Zeryihun said. “Dr. Green Sand gave us some great advice on how to have a balanced, fact-based discussion about blockchain. He suggested that we have people on both sides: those who support cryptocurrencies and those who don’t.
The summit included a keynote speaker, two panel discussions and a lunch and networking session during the intermission. Harry Goodnight ’86 (MS, Computational Mathematics), executive advisor at Sweetbridge, Inc. – a company building a blockchain alliance and designing protocols for commerce, supply chains and interest-free lending – was the keynote speaker. Goodnight spoke about his experience as a CSUN alumnus and explored concepts such as how blockchain could be applied to supply chain management, a connection or network of parties, all within the same creative process. For example, the supply chain of a cell phone would include suppliers responsible for design and development, manufacturing, and distribution.
The first panel of the summit, “Blockchain in Action,” aimed to educate the public about how blockchain works. Panelists included partners from established accounting firms and application developers. Panelists explained that blockchain is what prevents the double spending of Bitcoins and explored the benefits of the technology, such as the fact that it is a largely verifiable ledger – since it is on a peer network -to-peer – and disadvantages, such as the fact that most projects have not yet proven their effectiveness.
“Initial Coin Offerings, Cryptocurrency, and Tax Policy,” the summit’s second panel, featured entrepreneurs and CSUN professor James Dow, who served as a skeptic. For example, Dow explained the importance of federal fiscal policy and the risk of investing in cryptocurrencies.
Chris Kline of BitcoinIRA, who was a guest on the second panel, said he was impressed by the level of enthusiasm CSUN students had regarding cryptocurrencies and blockchain.
“It was an honor to be invited to share the crypto revolution with the CSUN community,” Kline said. “I left the event thrilled with their collective energy towards this global event.”