Syracuse University Magazine


Steven Winschel Jr. ’19 (left), Taylor Pasquariello ’18, Faiz Khan ’19, Samantha Kessler ’19, and Troy Gates ’18 are student coaches for the Office of Financial Literacy.

Photo courtesy of the Office of Financial Literacy

Promoting Positive Money Management

Derek Brainard encourages students to plan for their financial future early and wisely. As the University’s financial literacy coordinator, Brainard knows from professional and personal experience the necessity of understanding prudent money management. Brainard came to the University from investment company Edward Jones, assisting clients in managing their money as a financial advisor. Before that, he served in the U.S. Navy in Seattle, where, as a young couple, he and his wife strategized and saved their way out of $65,000 in student loan and personal debt. “Getting on budget and setting a goal were the top two contributors to our success,” he says. “It sounds so simple, but that’s really what it takes.” 

Brainard counsels students on money matters in the Office of Financial Literacy, which was created in 2016 as part of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarship Programs. The University has offered financial literacy programs to students since 2009, including the “I Otto Know This!” money management initiative, but the decision was made to establish the office and institutionalize the efforts under Brainard’s vision. He is passionate about coaching and teaching and getting key financial information—that helped him—in front of young people. “Students can get ahead financially because they have time. That’s the main ingredient for wealth building,” Brainard says.

 The Office of Financial Literacy provides financial education and promotes positive money management for all students. The work is done through online educational modules that students can download to learn financial skills; group workshops; and one-on-one coaching. In the group workshops, Brainard speaks to classes about savings and transitioning to the real world. But he spends most of his energy on one-on-one coaching, which can be of the highest value for students. “We use a document tool called My Financial Picture in which we build out a picture of their income, protection and risk, and wealth,” he says.

To extend the office’s efforts, Brainard has trained five student coaches, sophomores and juniors, to provide financial counseling. The student coaches can receive credit toward their degrees through the training and get paid to coach. One of the coaches, Troy Gates ’18, a finance major, says the training coursework went beyond just finances. “I learned how important communication is, both one on one and with groups,” Gates says. “Many presentations and practice coaching sessions helped prepare me to speak on a topic that can sometimes be emotional for many people.” During coaching sessions, students are interested in such topics as credit cards, student loans, and investing; students near graduation tend to ask more questions about cost of living, taxes, and employer 401k and health insurance options, he says.

Another coach, Samantha Kessler ’19, a policy studies major, agrees many students are interested in learning how student loans work and the different repayment options. She also spends time speaking about how to make a budget and stick to it. “It can be difficult to assign amounts to certain sections of a budget, but we are here to break it down and make it approachable,” Kessler says. “I really enjoy seeing other students set goals they feel comfortable with and watching them come back having achieved them.” For Kessler, the training to become a coach helped her to see the importance of financial awareness, especially for millennials. “Managing and understanding money in today’s world is very complicated, but necessary to learn about to succeed,” she says.

Many times the questions from students are just how to begin planning their finances. Brainard and his team are there to help students start on their path toward a successful financial future. “We want our students to not only have a fantastic, marketable degree, but also an awareness of how to manage money and make decisions that could help mitigate the amount they borrow—where they can leave here and have a kick-start into the workforce and adult life,” Brainard says. —Kathleen Haley