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Moneythink, Money Change

Only 17 states mandate personal finance courses in high school. Fewer than 20 percent of teachers report feeling competent enough to teach personal finance, while only 28 percent of parents feel comfortable to speak with their children about finances, according to a 2016 Council for Economic Education survey.

The dialogue about basic finance is lacking. And that is where Moneythink OSU is trying to change within the Columbus community, one student at a time.

Moneythink OSU is a service organization that mentors underprivileged Columbus high school students in personal finance. The club started in Spring 2016 and was founded by fourth-year business finance majors, Haryoon Jang and Lauren Palmer. The mentorship program aims to inspire youth and teach personal finance skills via near-peer relationships between both college and high school students. Moneythink is a nationally recognized nonprofit that began in 2008 out of the University of Chicago in response to the Great Recession. Moneythink OSU is one of the 24 chapters around the nation.

Jang first heard of Moneythink during the end of his sophomore year in Spring 2015, his first year as a business student. He recalls being on LinkedIn, where he came across a high school friend who goes to University of Michigan and saw “Moneythink mentor.” That prompted Jang to look into the organization as  he became fascinated the more he learned about it..

“For me, I never really thought I had a perfect fit in any of the student orgs on campus, and I really missed the element of service in my life. Growing up I always taught kids martial arts, so the idea of mentorship and teaching a critical skill was really attractive to me,” says Jang.

After learning about Moneythink, Jang reached out to the national office and, after an interview, agreed to allow him to begin a chapter at Ohio State.

To help make this new organization possible, Jang asked Palmer to be his co-founder. Palmer says that she was drawn to this organization and its mission due to her own background in finance and her understanding of importance of finance education.

“Financing literacy in general has always been an important part of my life,” remarks Palmer. “My dad’s a financial advisor, so I knew a lot of its importance when I decided to major in [business finance] and join Moneythink.”

Palmer and Jang spent the following summer planning the Ohio State chapter. This included flying to Chicago to receive training on how to start the club, what to look for when recruiting mentors and how to effectively interact with high school students.

“We didn’t know what to expect when we started it,” states Jang. “[There are] a lot of logistical things, we have a lot of complex operations, we have to think about all the constraints and our stakeholders. It was kind of like starting a startup, except we didn’t have to worry about P&L.”

“Columbus North International High School in Clintonville was [our] first partner school, and was extremely willing to work with Moneythink,” says Palmer. She continues by explaining that the organization reaches out to schools that have 85 percent or more students on free or reduced lunches.

Currently, Moneythink mentors in two partner high schools: Columbus North International and Independence. Also, after initially consisting of 15 mentors, Moneythink OSU has more than doubled in membership, now totaling 33 mentors, thus multiplying the impact the organization has.

“For a lot of these kids, personal finance becomes really relevant right after high school,” asserts Jang. “Having knowledge of how to save and spend and use financial products wisely is not really taught in underprivileged schools.”

Some of the subjects that Moneythink OSU teaches its mentees about budgeting, using checks, debit and credit cards, insurance, job searching, improving interview skills, banking and taxes.

Both Jang and Palmer agree that the future of Moneythink doesn’t have to do with membership numbers, noting that quality over quantity is the mission. Some of the factors the organization is focusing on more are developing its curriculum and mentors.

Moneythink hopes to develop more partnerships, possibly with some financial service businesses in the Columbus area so students can meet people who hold careers in these businesses and institutions.

“Inspired youth in a financially literate world’ is  our chapter’s visions, and we try to push for that,” states Jang. “We’re constantly thinking about how we can inspire our kids and how we can best teach them these personal finance skills. It’s about what impact we can have on the Columbus community.”