Local Delaware high school students presented their personal finance recommendations to the imaginary “Hernandez family” on Feb. 7 at this year’s 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.
“Many of these individuals are going to be future business leaders, and to me, it’s important that they know what the heck they’re doing from a monetary standpoint,” said Tom Thunstrom of the Delaware Small Business Development Center. “Any sort of program or initiative that teaches about the importance of planning, the importance of taking care of your money, being responsible, making good choices, I support it. And I love the work that these guys do here.”
Three student teams, selected from a statewide 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 case through the Delaware PFCSC. The Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE) at UD’s Lerner College sponsored the competition.
According to Associate Director for the CEEE Bonnie Meszaros, the center 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.”
This year’s competitors included from Middletown High School, Karina Hallett, Lindsey Hallett, Hanna Pinkston and Dana Ridall with teacher Veronica Marine, from Milford High School, Deena Johnson, Victoria Jordan and James Stangl with teacher Roser Parker, and from Woodbridge High School, Nina Burns, Logan Leverage-Frye and Taylor Scott with teacher Dana Shelton.
Judge and UD finance professor Richard Jakotowicz added, “These kinds of competitions help with the things you can’t teach: the interpersonal skills, the presentation skills, looking someone in the eye—all those kinds of soft skills, that comes out through these competitions. That’s why I’m doing it: because I know they’re going to get so much more than just the textbook information.”
Woodbridge High School student Logan Leverage-Frye agreed, saying that the competition had taught her and her teammates essential critical thinking skills: “[With this competition] you’re in many situations where you need to think hard and fast.”
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 three 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, which ranged from creating a will and saving more towards retirement to lowering food costs and allocating assets to a mutual fund.
The time limit is far from the only challenge that participants faced. Each team had to balance schedules, workload from AP classes and other extracurricular activities like sports and DECA. Navigating this and producing a quality presentation left students with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
“I’m proud of how well we worked together,” said Woodbridge student Nina Burns. “And we just had a lot of fun.”
Milford team member Deena Johnson added that they couldn’t have gotten it done alone: “I’m most proud of the support we had. Our team, our advisor, and our families were always there.”
Dana Shelton, advisor for the team from Woodbridge that placed second this year (their second year as finalists), said that they participated in PFCSC because, “It’s about students. That’s the key. The planning of this is very important for them as youngsters so that they can learn how to handle money. We’re not talking about how to become rich, but how to handle and manage their money.”
Shelton’s counterpart from Milford, Rose Parker, chimed in, “I’ve always been a big fan [of the expression] that you rule the money, don’t let the money rule you, and understanding how to live within your means so that you can be successful.”
CEEE piloted a version of the PFCSC program in 2018 and decided to move forward with the annual statewide competition based on feedback from the teachers and judges.
The day of the competition began with a breakfast and introductions, yielding time for students to practice their oral presentations. Then the three 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.
Lindsey Hallett, from the Middletown High School championship team led by teacher Veronica Marine, reflected on the win: “Bottom line, we learned the same amount [as if we hadn’t won], but winning feels good, makes you feel proud.”
At the awards ceremony, PFCSC judge Rajeev Vaidya, senior advisor at Arsenal Capital Partners, ended the day with a challenge to the students and their advisors: “I have an ask: spread the word. Take this knowledge to your friends.”
“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 the CEEE.
Personal Finance program coordinator Gail Colbert, organizer of the event, added, “Every year the kids improve; presentation skills, knowledge, all of it.”