Dollars and Sense

Honors students teach financial literacy

By Matthew Biddle

One undergraduate honors team worked with Girl Scout leaders to introduce MoneySKILL into their existing programming. Clockwise from left: Matthew Ricotta, Jonathan Voyzey, Mahwish Khan, Willian Sueyasu, Shelby Wilde and Gabrielle (Qianhui) You. Photo: Tom Wolf

For high school students, the possibilities are endless.

After graduation, they can study a vast array of fields in college, launch their careers immediately or enlist in the military. But which option will support the lifestyle they want for themselves and their families?

That was one lesson that School of Management undergraduate honors students taught this spring based on concepts presented in MoneySKILL, a free, online curriculum that teaches high school students basic money management skills.

"We assigned each student a career and salary and asked the class to budget how much it would cost per year to live how they wanted, with a nice car, big house and vacations," says Ian Scaduto, BS '16, who is pursuing a career in finance. "It opened their eyes to the importance of saving and the disparity between how much people earn and how much things cost."

The first cohort in the school's undergraduate honors program worked on the project during their last semester on campus (see sidebar). Dorothy Siaw-Asamoah, clinical assistant professor of organization and human resources, divided the class into three groups and challenged each to develop and implement a program that reinforces MoneySKILL concepts for a local school or nonprofit.

Scaduto's team visited Cleveland Hill High School in Cheektowaga, which has participated in MoneySKILL for the past six years. In addition to the salary and career exercise, the team discussed college financial aid and led an interactive game that covered savings accounts and investments like stocks and mutual funds.

Robert Haley, a government and economics teacher at Cleveland Hill, says the program successfully helped his students understand these vital everyday financial concepts. In fact, Cleveland Hill senior Joseph Bienas won this year's MoneySKILL Mania competition against more than 900 students across the region.

"Personal finance is one of the most important things we can teach our students to prepare them for a successful future," Haley says. "The UB students really helped my students connect to the information, and my students related to them better because of their closeness in age."

Another honors group incorporated MoneySKILL into an after-school program at Frederick Law Olmsted School in Buffalo. Over two sessions, the team taught budgeting, credit, checks and insurance, and used real-life scenarios to demonstrate how medical expenses, job changes and other life events can impact financial security.

MoneySKILL® by the numbers

20,000 regional students have participated since 2006.

176 regional teachers registered to use MoneySKILL this year.

675,000 students nationwide have registered to use the program since it was developed in 2004 by Lewis Mandell, professor emeritus of finance, for the American Financial Services Association Education Foundation.

10 years of partnership between the School of Management and M&T Bank to bring MoneySKILL to local youth through outreach and teacher training.

"When you hear statistics about student loan and credit card debt in America, you really begin to understand the problem — many teenagers aren't learning the skills they need to manage money effectively later in life," says Billy Dickinson, BS '16, now a junior analyst at Crowley Webb. "We tried to encourage discussion and illustrate the importance of good financial literacy."

The third group worked with the Girl Scouts of Western New York to introduce MoneySKILL to troop leaders and program staff as a tool to augment the organization's current financial literacy programming.

"The Girl Scout Cookie program is the largest girl-led business in the world," says Jerilyn Hickey, EMBA '07, chief development officer for Girl Scouts of Western New York. "The program helps girls develop five skills they will use throughout their lives: goal-setting, decision-making, money management, people skills and business ethics. MoneySKILL shares many of these objectives, so it's a great fit for us."

Through the projects, the School of Management honors students gained valuable communication, presentation and leadership skills, gave back to the community and spread awareness about financial literacy.

"This project helped me with my consulting skills," says Mahwish Khan, BS '16, now a human capital management analyst at Goldman Sachs. "It required me to think strategically and communicate effectively with our clients."

"MoneySKILL breaks down concepts that might seem advanced for children, like income or retirement, in a way that's understandable," says Matthew Ricotta, BS '16, who joined Morgan Stanley's Internal Audit division this summer. "This experience taught me that based on how you market information, you can make it applicable to almost anyone. Financial literacy is important for everyone, and it's never too early to learn."

Inaugural honors cohort graduates

Honors students received recognition medals from faculty and staff on the last day of class.

After two years of leadership development, self-reflection and enrichment opportunities, the first cohort of School of Management undergraduate honors students have graduated and are ready to advance their careers.

Only the top 5 percent of business administration and accounting majors qualify to participate in the honors program.

These high-achieving students strengthen their leadership skills through an individualized development plan, specialized courses and opportunities to complement and enhance what they learn during their degree program by conducting research with faculty, studying abroad, taking graduate-level classes and completing an internship or supplemental coursework.

"Through various self-assessments, we identified our strengths, work styles and areas of improvement," says Mahwish Khan, BS '16. "I also learned the importance of my personal brand, to be receptive to feedback and that change is imperative in life."

"The program is personalized, reflective and introspective," says Ian Scaduto, BS '16. "I've gone outside my comfort zone and am pleased with the results."