Carnegie Mellon University

Photo of a Moneythink volunteer teaching.

April 22, 2019

CMU Students Coach High Schoolers Through Financial Lessons

By Michael Henninger

Julie Mattera
  • Marketing and Communications
  • 1-412-268-2902

Every week Carnegie Mellon University first-year students Elizabeth Carney, a math major, and Claire Lee, a business administration major, take a rideshare to Pittsburgh Public School's Student Achievement Center in Homewood. There, they deliver lessons on financial literacy to high school students. As part of Moneythink CMU, Carney and Lee teach about budgeting, credit, how to open a bank account, loans and a myriad of other topics.

A chapter of a national organization, Moneythink CMU has about 30 active student volunteers that visit four local high schools and teach financial literacy to students. The program aims to empower individuals to better manage money.

Every semester, Moneythink's board members run training sessions for new volunteers. They prepare them for the classroom setting and give them instruction on how to interact with students.

"It's an important subject that they don't emphasize in a high school curriculum, especially in distressed areas," Lee said. "It's crucial to understand things like credit cards and loans as they graduate and head into the real world."

Elaine Drake, a business instructor at the Student Achievement Center, welcomes the CMU volunteers into her classroom. She sees the benefit of having her kids learn from college students so close in age.

"They're only two years apart," Drake said. "My students relate with them so well. The CMU mentors connect with my students because of their shared experiences."

Moneythink CMU President Jason Ren, a junior double-majoring in computational finance and statistics, found purpose in Moneythink's mission and a chance to volunteer in the Pittsburgh community.

"I wanted to get out of the CMU bubble," Ren said. "It's a very simple idea, going out to mentor, but we do more than just teach. It's about building connections."

Ren's mentoring has gone beyond the scope of financial literacy. Students in the program have reached out for help with their college applications and personal problems.

"At first, most of the students feel like this is just another class," Ren said. "We like to break them up and talk to them more personally about their experiences. Gradually, they open up. We build their goals into the things we teach. In the end it's relevant to their everyday life."

Moneythink CMU volunteer Julian Nelson, a senior double majoring in economics and statistics with a minor in creative writing, came to the organization after developing an entirely new approach to money. His father passed away his sophomore year, and he needed to independently learn the skills necessary to create a solid financial future.

"I realized that I had to develop those budgeting skills in a vacuum," Nelson said. "I didn't want high school students to have to do the same thing. If I had those skills coming out of high school, it would have been incredibly valuable for me going into my college career."

Nelson hopes that he can draw from his experience to help others.

"I've done a lot of research on socioeconomic mobility," Nelson said. "One of the worst outcomes that can happen is when students coming from an impoverished background end up staying there. We try to help students break out of that."