Group helps high schoolers plan debts, cost of life goals

Baby Got Bank
Ben Hsieh, a Baby Got Bank group member, talks to students at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in March. The group aims to teach high schoolers about financial literacy through games and lessons. Photo courtesy of Melinda Pandiangan

By Jenny Hottle, senior staff writerWednesday, April 3, 2013
Originally published on

The day before spring break, when many students from this university were making last-minute vacation plans or anticipating the week off, one group was playing M.A.S.H. in a local high school classroom.

In the game, which supposedly predicts one’s future, students wrote out possibilities for the houses, cars and vacations they aspire to, among other life goals. Using the results, students from the Entrepreneurship and Innovation honors program helped high school seniors calculate how much their future lives could cost them.

Taking those numbers and plugging them into a balance sheet — making sure to include interest — students were astounded by how easily they could fall into debt, a common and “major problem” in the United States today, said Nick Henninger, a sophomore economics and history major.

Henninger and a group of 30 other students from the honors program recognized a lack of financial literacy among high school and college students. So when they were challenged to take on a social impact project through their entrepreneurship class, they formed Baby Got Bank and set out to inform high schoolers of their campaign.

Baby Got Bank is one of several groups on the campus vying to win the Do Good Challenge, a seven-week initiative challenging students to engage in community interaction and generate an impact on a social issue or cause. The top 11 finalists — including Baby Got Bank and two other Entrepreneurship and Innovation groups — will present updates on their impact Wednesday in front of the competition’s committee.

During the challenge, the group developed a presentation addressing several main aspects of financial reality, such as realizing how much things cost, how to earn enough to maintain his or her aspirations and looking into savings and spending, said Nicole Lach, a freshman civil engineering major.

The project targets high school juniors and seniors, many of whom are just earning their first paychecks in addition to preparing for college, Lach said.

“[Seniors] are the ones who really need this lesson,” said Lach, who took a financial literacy-related course her freshman and junior years of high school. “Too early and you’ll forget it. While I actually got to learn it freshman year — unlike other students — I didn’t retain the information.”

Senior year of high school is an ideal time for learning about personal finance, said Jay Smith, Entrepreneurship and Innovation director.

“It’s when you’re getting into the real world, maybe having your first boyfriend or girlfriend relationship and paying for things,” Smith said. “To be able to learn those basic skills of finance will help you avoid a lot of problems and create a better future.”

Smith decided to make competing in the Do Good Challenge part of his program’s curriculum this semester. He arranged to set aside classroom time so students could work on their projects, though he said most spent additional hours outside of class brainstorming and developing more ideas.

“Watching the students form their own groups and subgroups for the project and all of that was an interesting experience,” he said, adding this year’s setup is much different from the usual three- to four-person teams formed for class projects.

Having access to a large group of student ideas has propelled Baby Got Bank’s vision of teaching students into a reality, Henninger said.

“I love that you can turn something that’s an idea or dream into a reality when you’re surrounded by the right people and the right tools,” Henninger said. “This project is a great example of it. If you can speak well of yourself and inject what you want to happen with the right people, you can achieve your goals.”

The two other Entrepreneurship and Innovation groups still in the competition’s running are RISE, a sophomore team that works to uplift the spirits of people in local homeless shelters and area food kitchens, and freshman group Botany in a Bottle, which hopes to encourage ecological awareness by turning water bottles into planters to grow herbs.

“The experiential piece of learning is huge,” Smith said. “We want to encourage that as much as possible. Entrepreneurship doesn’t necessarily happen in the classroom. You have to get into the real world.”

At an English class at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Baby Got Bank members caught their first real glimpse of a need to address financial literacy.

“Not everyone in the room could properly fill out a check,” Henninger said.

On his way to the school, freshman business major Paul Finamore was nervous to present a topic he worried would seem boring to high schoolers, despite the group’s Mack Daddy inspired name.

“A lot of our pop culture is very consumerist — songs are about spending money, acquiring material things,” said Naya Frazier, a freshman international business major. “There’s nothing about saving for your future, investing that money.”

The group’s goal is to take the idea of a consumerist society and flip it around, Frazier said.

“We’re trying to make financial literacy cool for kids, accessible and relevant,” Frazier said. “In the long run, it’s not cool having outdated, fancy clothes. It’s about having savings so you can do something with your life.”

And as it turned out, Finamore said, students enthusiastically participated in the group’s activities and enjoyed planning for their futures.

“I was amazed to see that they really were engaged,” Henninger said. “They had a lot of questions, and they did pay attention. It showed us how much they realized they need to learn about personal finance.”

Regardless of the Do Good Challenge results, group members plan to pass on their idea to future groups within the honors program to continue the project, Finamore said.

“The great thing about this project is we’re trying to create a database of resources that will be around forever,” Frazier said. “After we’ve compiled these resources, people can still access them.”

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