Five students from San Isidro High School demonstrated their newly-gained financial savvy Dec. 3 and walked away with iPads as winners of the State Farm Financial Literacy Challenge at The University of Texas-Pan American.
"It is my first Apple product," said an excited Karla Galvan, a senior and member of the winning team. "It was a great opportunity to compete against the other teams and a great challenge. We didn't think we were going to make it this far."
Galvan said it is important for students to learn how to make the right decisions on how to handle their money, admitting she was one of those who tended not to spend it wisely.
"This really helped me a lot on how to save," said Galvan, who was able to network at the event with business faculty who encouraged her interest in pursuing an accounting degree.
During the training sessions held this fall, led primarily by undergraduate business students at UTPA, 124 ninth to 11th grade students learned about financial planning, budgeting, use of credit cards and managing debt, investments and the socioeconomic impact of financial literacy on a community.
The training culminated in the competition between teams formed at the participating schools that was judged by business doctoral students at UTPA. Challenge participants also attended an awards banquet, where they were welcomed by Martin Baylor, vice president for Business Affairs at UTPA, and Dr. Teo Ozuna, dean of the College of Business Administration.
Baylor told students that having a command of basic financial knowledge and skills will not only enable them to manage their financial resources more effectively but also empowers them to understand and engage in important national debates such as health care costs, debt issues, taxes and investments.
"These topics (you studied) are not just school work. These are very important for your future. You are now equipped to make smarter financial decisions that will impact you for the rest of your life," he said.
Other participating high schools included Hidalgo, La Villa, and Santa Maria. Donna High School team members each won an iTouch as second place winners while the third place team members from Hidalgo High School each won a scientific calculator. All team members also went home with a medal and a team trophy.
Joel Tovar, a senior finance student at UTPA who volunteered to mentor the Donna High School students, said he hoped the training led students to think about not only future careers but also their financial future.
"I hope they learned that it is important to save early and that their credit report is important now in getting a job," he said. "Some of them didn't know how important their credit is. It is an eye opening experience."
Raul Resendez, a State Farm agent from Edinburg, said his company's support of the program, through a $30,000 Good Neighbor grant, stems from its mission to be civically engaged in the community, particularly in education. He said State Farm, also views financial literacy as critical knowledge for anyone to have, particularly high school students.
"It is a great asset for a student to get a better understanding of financial literacy at a young age for them to be successful in the future," he said.
He said the training provided an opportunity to many who may not have had the chance to learn and engage in everyday financial principles.
"Some of these students I talked to while here have never even visited the campus so that in itself is part of a defining moment, we believe, in the process of becoming educated and giving yourself a better opportunity."
Alumna Roxana Elizondo, who earned a BBA in accounting in 1992 and a master's in educational administration in 2011 from UT Pan Am, filled in as a mentor and team coach at San Isidro where she teaches business. She said she appreciated the unique opportunity the State Farm program gave her students.
"We want to give them as much exposure as possible to prepare for life on their own," she said. "And financial literacy is definitely imperative for their success."
Ismael Delgado, director of special projects in UTPA's Office of Community Engagement, hailed the initiative and competition as an effective way to promote a culture of achievement in Rio Grande Valley students.
"With over 50 percent high school dropout rates, unemployment high, gang activity and teen violence, these high school students are already winners, beating the odds, and UTPA and State Farm are helping to make a difference," Delgado said.
For more information on the State Farm Challenge, contact Delgado at (956) 665-3381 or firstname.lastname@example.org.