Students Excel in Personal Finance Competition

Kyle Brown, Alexa Freeman and Aaliyah Wilson from Middletown High School win the first Delaware Personal Finance Case Study Competition.

“If everyone learned these [personal finance] skills, I think people would have a lot less debt. It is a really good experience for us to have on our resume,” said McKayla Redden, a senior from Appoquinimink High School in Middletown, Delaware.

Local Delaware high school students presented their personal finance recommendations to the imaginary “Larson family” on Feb. 8 at the first-ever Delaware Personal Finance Case Study Competition (PFCSC) held at the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics’ Geltzeiler Trading Center on the University of Delaware campus.

Four student teams, selected from a state-wide pool of contestants, were able to apply and present skills learned in their school’s Academy of Finance (AOF) Pathway program to this simulated, real-world situation through the Delaware PFCSC. UD’s Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE) at the Lerner College sponsored the competition.

According to Associate Director for the CEEE Bonnie Meszaros, CEEE saw an opportunity in the PFCSC to “provide students with a platform to apply personal finance concepts that they were learning in a more real-world situation and in an academic setting.

“We hope this experience, which provided the teams with feedback from experts in the field, will give them the skills and confidence they can use to further their education in the field of financial planning as well as in their personal lives,” Meszaros continued. “The competition also gives students a chance to become more familiar with the University of Delaware campus.”

The AOF Pathway program, one of the many programs now offered in Delaware high schools, deals with financial planning. Both the finance Pathway and the student competition fit well within the CEEE’s mission to prepare K-12 educators and students in economics, personal finance and entrepreneurship by providing dynamic, effective and standards-based professional learning, resources and programs.

As part of the AOF program, teams from around the state researched financial concerns and goals outlined in the case study. They submitted their findings in the form of a written financial plan and in February, the four teams with the highest-scoring financial plans presented their research in person.

With only seven minutes to impress the judges, the students presented their personal finance recommendations from creating a will and saving more towards retirement to lowering food costs and allocating assets to a mutual fund.

“Trying to find exactly what would best accommodate the needs of the Larson family was the most challenging part of preparing,” said Macey Bautista, a junior from Woodbridge High School in Greenwood, Delaware. “We did a lot of research to figure out how to devise a plan to meet those needs.”

Dana Shelton, advisor for the team from Woodbridge High School, said that they participated in PFCSC because, “It is a great opportunity for our students, who will be competing in another business competition this year, to work on their presentation skills and apply other skills from their classes.”

CEEE piloted a version of the PFCSC program in 2018 and decided to move forward with the annual state-wide competition based on feedback from the teachers and judges.

“I didn’t decide to participate right away; I wanted first to see what the competition was about,” said Lillian Spedden, a sophomore at Appoquinimink High School in Middletown, Delaware. “I ultimately decided to participate because I thought it would give me a sneak peek as well as field experience in the finance industry. It was a unique opportunity to get experience in finance, which is where I want to work someday.”

The day of the competition began with a breakfast and introductions, yielding time for students to practice their oral presentations. Then the four teams took turns formally delivering their findings and recommendations to the judges, taking questions from them upon completion. After the judges deliberated, winners were formally announced at an awards ceremony.

“It’s a great group experience,” said Kiernan King, a sophomore at Appoquinimink High School. “You learn from each other, you challenge each other, and the whole process has been a lot more educational and successful in working through it as a team.”

At the ceremony, PFCSC judge Rajeev Vaidya, senior advisor at Arsenal Capital Partners, told the students and their advisors that, “All of you are winners. A survey of college graduates conducted by Hartford Financial Services has shown that nearly 80 percent wish they had been better instructed on how to prepare for their financial future.

“The financial literacy that these students achieved through the work that they did for this competition has given them a life skill that will pay handsome dividends for them and their families for the rest of their lifetimes,” he continued. “So they are all winners in the learning they have achieved through this program.”

When the team, comprised of Kyle Brown, Alexa Freeman and Aaliyah Wilson from Middletown High School, was announced as the first place winner, the students were in disbelief.

The first place team received a trophy, and all teams competing on campus received a certificate and cash award for each member and their teacher.

“We all have really busy schedules, so the most challenging part of preparing for the competition for us was coordinating as a group,” said team member Alexa Freeman, a senior at Middletown. “We only managed to meet maybe three or four times before today, but we used our time really wisely when we were together. It was a lot of fun to work on our prepared response and presentation and I really liked the case study, itself.”

“We were pleasantly surprised, as were the judges, about the depth of knowledge the students brought to their case and how professional each team was in their presentations,” said Scott Bacon, program coordinator for CEEE. “We hope to grow the number of teams and schools participating in the Delaware PFCSC as the AOF Pathway, itself, expands.”

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