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Innovation in Education: Chatham’s Financial Wellness Program

Sean McGreevey, PhD
Sean McGreevey, Ph.D.

As Assistant Dean for Career Development and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance, I’ve noticed that even our most savvy, empowered, and world ready students seemed to shoulder anxiety about their future. I thought we could help students formulate a battle plan for the “real world,” and that led to the creation of a new program called “Financial Wellness”. The ten-week program is open to undergraduate and graduate students, and 38 students have signed up since last fall.

It’s important to understand this concept of financial wellness. Most folks would call it financial literacy, and think about balancing their checking account, or calculating compound interest. That’s where this program is different.

Every week, we meet and focus on the myths that our society feeds us about money. Most notably, we discuss at length the myth surrounding the importance of a credit score.   Sure, you don’t want to have bad credit, but the debt industry spends $4,000,000,000 (that’s billions, folks) each year convincing you that your FICO score is an indication of your success in life. I want folks to buy things they can afford and live a life that isn’t dependent on debt.

We talk about habits and attitudes more than we do math problems. Personal finance is not difficult. Making a plan and having the personal fortitude to make sacrifices and stick to it
is the hard part.

You will never be wealthy unless you live below your means and save. This requires dedication, sacrifice and the ability to tell yourself “no” when all you want is a Chipotle burrito.

Wealth isn’t about a fancy car or a chateau in the Alps—it’s about having options. I want our students to gain financial confidence. With that confidence, they can face whatever their situation happens to be, rather than letting the situation happen to them.

There are two takeaways that I want to impress upon students in Financial Wellness.

  1. You should save 15% of your income (no matter how small) and develop a savings habits. This will result in a chunk of cash that you can use for your “next move” account – transitioning to a new city, application fees for graduate school, etc.
  2. The first thing that many new college graduates do is run out and sign up for payments on a car they can’t afford. We talk about how to drive what’s reasonable for your situation and work your way into something that’s ideal.

We’re really only scratching the surface in Financial Wellness as we talk about debt, saving, credit scores, mortgages, and retirement. My hope is that students start to think critically about personal finance and seek information outside of what is delivered by credit card marketing. When our students graduate, we want them to cross the stage with a financial wellness plan and the personal resilience to follow through.

Watch Dr. McGreevey discuss financial freedom as part of the WQED Multimedia special “Closing the Gap: 50 Years Seeking Equal Pay”: 

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about the Financial Wellness program; you can read the story here.

Dr. McGreevey and the staff in Career Development are committed to working with students from day one, year one to achieve their professional goals. Learn more

Urban Planning and Political Ecology (SUS 606)

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“Urban Planning and Political Ecology” course participants. © Michael Finewood

Last fall, graduate and undergraduate students in Chatham University’s sustainability program participated in Urban Planning and Political Ecology (SUS 606), taught by Dr. Michael Finewood. As part of the course, they worked in teams on a community-based project with the Borough of Millvale, producing proposals for two projects that contribute to Millvale’s goals to become more sustainable.

Project #1 – The Hillside Food Forest
Team: Carmen Adamson MBA ‘15, Cassie Guerin BA ‘15, Julie Morris MSUS ‘16, Kayla Scherr MSUS ‘15, Christopher Seamon MSUS ‘15, Ezra Welsh MSUS ‘16, ILona Weyers BS ’17.

Challenges facing Millvale include unstable hillsides, water contamination, and the fact that it is a food desert. The Hillside Food Forest team addressed these concerns through a proposal to convert a hillside into a food forest. The proposal includes a comprehensive site analysis with design scheme, property acquisition strategies, and listing of potential partners as well as information about soil types, plant orientation, and low cost/ low maintenance management. The project highlights how a food forest—designed by and for community members—can strengthen community resilience and help strengthen Millvale’s local food network. Download the final report.

Project #2 – The Bicycle Park-and-Ride Project
Team: Scott Carter, MSUS ’16; Jared Haidet, MSUS ’16; Joshua Lewis, MSUS ’16; Carla Limon, MSUS ’16; Kimberly Lucke, MSUS ’16; Jessica Tain, MSUS ’15; Joshua Zivkovich, MSUS ‘16

Pittsburgh Port Authority owns a parking lot in Millvale that has largely gone unused since the bus route was shut down. The Park-and-Ride Project team developed a proposal to convert it into a multi-use space. The three main objectives of the project were to establish green infrastructure for stormwater management, develop plans for a bike corridor that connects to the riverfront park (see map below), and create a public space that would help change community perceptions of a nearby creek, Girty’s Run, from a risk to an asset. The proposal includes site analysis with water runoff calculations, comparison of the efficacy of various types of green infrastructure, plans for implementing a bike-and-ride infrastructure, and a list of potential community partners and grant opportunities. The project highlights how green spaces can create multiple community benefits while contributing to the reduction of combined sewer overflows, a requirement of the Clean Water Act. Download the final report.

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This map illustrates the biking distance and time from Millvale to various sections of the city. The Park-and-Ride proposal articulates ways multi-modal transportation can connect Millvale to the broader region in efficient and sustainable ways. © Kim Lucke & Joshua Lewis