January 10, 2014

Financial volunteers hone skills by helping fellow students


Student volunteers in the Scarlet & Gray Financial Coaching program (View larger)

“Thank yous” are not few and far between for volunteers in the Scarlet & Gray Financial Coaching program, the majority of whom are Fisher College of Business students. Payment for their work — assisting fellow students across campus on issues such as budgeting, loans, credit scores, banking basics and more — often comes in the form of gratitude and kudos.

Still, receiving a compliment from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was a particular thrill. At a conference of 7,000 financial-aid professionals last month, Duncan cited the Scarlet & Gray program as a nationwide leader in promoting financial literacy to college students.

“That was a nice acknowledgment for our student coaches,” said Bryan Ashton, a 2012 Fisher accounting alumnus who runs the program within The Ohio State University’s Office of Student Life Student Wellness Center. “This year, we will see 1,500 students in one-on-one appointments and a little over 5,000 through presentations we make to student organizations and groups campus-wide.”

The Ohio State program, which includes about 40 student coaches plus an additional 20 who are going through training, currently pulls from the College of Education and Human Ecology, the College of Arts and Sciences, and Fisher — specifically, the FisherDirect program.

About 70 percent of the coaches are Fisher students. Emily Bechtol, who is studying operations management, said her main reason for joining the program was the “peer education aspect.”

“I have a passion for personal finance and I think it’s really necessary for students to have,” she said. “So with this program, I not only get to exercise the knowledge I have, but I also get to gain knowledge and help students at the same time.”

Ryan Gallof, specializing in finance at Fisher, helps lead the training of student coaches with finance classmate Katie McCuen. Along with training on subjects like debt repayment, moving off campus and financial aid, Gallof said that time is also spent on developing soft skills.

“We focus on how you communicate that information and how you inspire your peers to make a change in their life,” he said. “A lot of the group work and collaboration we do at Fisher is really effective in one-on-one coaching. Those soft skills you learn in school translate.”

Even when students become coaches, the development doesn’t end, explained program coordinator Michelle Patella. Throughout their time as coaches, students network with industry professionals and faculty as well as continue to train on more complex financial situations and client techniques. They have also participated in a summit on student finances that attracts attendees from across the state (the 2014 event is slated to take place this summer). Overall, the program is growing rapidly – from seven student coaches in 2012 to 40 in the past year.

Said Bechtol: “It’s just a great opportunity for undergraduate students to have.”