Dominic Hernandez says coaching his WSU peers on finances helped develop his public speaking skills.

Carson Students Coach Cougs on Personal Finance

By Becky Kramer

When Dominic Hernandez talks about money, other students pay attention.

“Sometimes, they’d rather hear about budgeting or improving their credit score from their peers than from a teacher,” says Hernandez (‘22 Fin., Accounting). “We draw on our own experiences, telling them how we’ve applied these lessons in our lives.”

That’s the strategy behind the Carson College of Business’s peer financial wellness coaching program, where students teach other students about personal finance.

Launched in October 2020, the program aims to sharpen Cougs’ money management skills, helping prepare them for the financial responsibilities of adulthood. The peer coaches—upper level finance majors—focus on topics relevant to WSU students, like making a budget, establishing credit, planning for major purchases after graduation, and understanding retirement savings options.

Funding from BECU and the Dean’s Catalyst Fund helps support the program, which corresponds with the Carson College’s goal of improving WSU students’ financial literacy.

Natalie Medved gives a presentation.

“We encourage students to talk about money, because money can be a taboo subject,” says Christiane Williamson, teaching assistant professor in the Department of Finance and Management Science, who oversees the program. “We try to meet students where they are with their financial knowledge. Balancing wants versus needs, avoiding peer pressure related to spending, and making your money last through the semester are big ones.”

Those conversations are important, not just individually, but also within student organizations, says Kendall Roberson (’22 Fin., Mgmt.), one of the coaches. “They help the group identify spending issues that might be affecting everyone. It could even be the expectation that students buy T-shirts for every event.”

Getting over the anxiety of presenting

Hernandez, who graduated in May, now works as a retirement consultant for American International Group (AIG), where he gives financial literacy talks to school district employees. He says coaching his WSU peers about money helped develop his public speaking skills.

“My job requires me to be a people person, and I had to get over the anxiety of giving big presentations,” he says. “Now, I’m not just reading from a script, but sharing my own experiences and using stories to make the talk more interesting.”

During April, which is financial literacy month, the five student coaches in the program gave a total of nine presentations to WSU students. Besides Hernandez and Roberson, Natalie Medved (’22 Fin., Mktg.), Kathleen Nguyen (’22 Fin., Mktg.), and Roos Helgesen-Thompson were coaches last semester.

One of the talks focused on establishing credit and protecting against identify theft.

“As soon as you graduate from college, so many people will be checking your credit score,” Hernandez told students who attended the presentation.

The presentation led students through establishing a positive credit record based on bank statements, credit card history, and utility payments. The coaches also explained how credits scores are calculated, why people should check their credit reports regularly, and how to get credit report errors fixed.

Money conversations on campus

The Carson College’s program was recently approved as a “registered education program” by the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education. Students who want to be financial counselors after they graduate can fulfill some of their requirements through coursework and being a peer financial wellness coach.

Although the program is relatively young, it’s already increasing conversations about money on campus, Williamson says.

Helgesen-Thompson gave an example about how he and a friend were discussing the stock market, when another WSU student chimed in.

“He was a computer science major with a high-paying job lined up. He didn’t understand why he should start investing for retirement,” Helgesen-Thompson says. “I thought, ‘Whoa! I can use what I just learned.’”

Helgesen-Thompson gave an impromptu talk on how the stock market works, the value of compound interest, and the benefits of investing in your 20s.

“Now, he’s like, ‘Cool. I’m going to put money into my 401(K),’” Helgesen-Thompson says.