The Cavalier Daily (Virginia)
By Michelle Kim
September 15, 2010
Some University student organizations really mean business
Whether you are hoping to work for an investment bank or just wondering how to spend your summer earnings, learning how to manage money is crucial. Conveniently, there are more than 30 student organizations on Grounds that advocate financial awareness and literacy to University students.
And not all of these groups limit themselves to the mundane tasks of filing tax returns and managing personal accounts. Among the active organizations, some focus on teaching their members how to invest successfully in stocks and develop a social network in the business world, while many clubs offer bits of financial wisdom applicable to all individuals interested in the money game.
Adhering to the slogan, "Spend some, save some, be smart," Hoos for Open Access President Allie Aguilera said learning how to manage money is crucial for individuals to achieve economic sustainability. As an independent student organization that has been active in the University for three years, Hoos for Open Access offers all University students access to budgeting and financial aid advice. They celebrate socioeconomic diversity and see themselves as something of an advising link between students and the counselors from financial aid services.
In a somewhat different approach, the McIntire Investment Institute seeks to teach University students how to manage stock portfolios and securities through investments in the stock market.
McIntire Investment Institute President James Rogers, a former Cavalier Daily senior associate editor, said the organization -- which is a student-run equity fund and non-profit organization under the McIntire Foundation -- is unique in that it is the only group on Grounds that manages real money and maintains a strong alumni network.
MII's membership is selective: During the application process, applicants attend a mandatory education session, submit an investment idea and participate in a 15-minute conversation with an MII manager. Students who do not become members can still attend a number of open invitational programs for novice investors through MII's educational sessions throughout the year.
"Few colleges offer real investing experience at the scale MII provides," Rogers said. "If you are interested in finance and/or want to learn how to manage your own money, it's a great opportunity."
Not all finance-related activities, however, focus on students' personal assets. Individuals with background experience in money management and taxes often take participate in Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope -- a University volunteer organization operating with Madison House. These students provide free tax return services for low-income, elderly and physically disabled individuals.
Sponsored by the IRS' Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, CASH helped more than 500 taxpayers prepare their tax returns in spring 2010 and collected more than $500,000 in federal and state refunds the same year, said Thomas Wong, head program director for CASH.
"Our long-term goal is to service as many underprivileged taxpayers in the Charlottesville area as possible," Wong said. "I also hope the quality of our volunteers will be among the top across other IRS VITA sites in the country."
But even though financial accountability and skills undoubtedly are important in the business world, social networking and the ability to establish and maintain business relationships are valued as building blocks to success as well.
To gain experience, CASH volunteers build critical interpersonal relationships with their clients, Wong said. The volunteers understand the value of their work and uphold ethical conduct, exemplifying the University's honor code as they inspect income statements, he added.
"Clients come in and you can put the faces on their tax returns," Wong said. "Volunteers get to understand that every dollar means a lot to the clients."
MII members, meanwhile, network within the organization by staying in contact with MII alumni, Rogers said. The organization also shares a quarterly report that is distributed to alumni.
Hoos for Open Access does not have the same advantage in networking opportunities because it is a relatively new organization with a limited number of alumni. Nevertheless, Aguilera said she has maintained close, fruitful relationships with officials and counselors in Student Financial Services since she joined the organization.
But even with all the advantages these business-oriented groups can offer, some students may wonder if it is necessary to have a concentration in the finance field before signing up for such an organization.
Rogers -- who is double majoring in history and finance -- said students do not necessarily need to study finance to excel in stock market analysis. In fact, Rogers said his knowledge of history helps trigger investment ideas and serves as a creative basis for thinking. In addition, he said some of the most creative and innovative ideas come from students not majoring in finance.
Aguilera, meanwhile, is majoring in Political Philosophy, Policy and Law with a media studies minor. Her participation in a financial organization has allowed her to explore connections to her other interests -- for example, a population can find political relief after its citizens achieve personal economic sustainability. Moreover, financial literacy plays a key role in political stability, she said.
Wong added that students do not necessarily need to learn how to prepare tax returns because they can always go to the CASH sites for help.
"I would say that it is important for low-income taxpayers to stay informed of the news," Wong said. "Taxpayers -- including University students and employees -- should stay informed of the tax credits or deductions that the government rolls out so that they can keep records on every expense that might be eligible for a tax benefit."
Still, one may wonder what exactly it is that sets business-related organizations apart, giving their participants an advantage over students who merely take business classes. David Paxton -- a second-year pre-Commerce student in the College who serves as rush chair for the Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity -- said these organizations can provide students with information that is perhaps less quantitative or by-the-book.
For example, finance-oriented groups can give students a set of guidelines for how to act in a professional environment.
"You have a toolset to act in that professional manner," Paxton said.
In the end, this toolset -- along with the greater financial awareness it reflects -- can have a wide range of benefits.
"It's different because it's personal," Aguilera said. "It's a human perspective. Nothing we do is hypothetical. You bring that knowledge and apply it and it impacts real people."