Comet Cents Helps Students Master Money

Alex Novoa and Jared Pickens, Comet Cents, UT Dallas

Finance senior Alexa Novoa (left), with senior lecturer Jared Pickens, is the student coordinator of the Comet Cents Financial Success Program. Pickens led the charge for creating the program that seeks to make students more financially savvy.

Jared Pickens, a senior lecturer in the Naveen Jindal School of Management’s finance program, is on a mission. He wants to improve UT Dallas students’ understanding of finance by providing tips to help them stay out of debt and offering a friendly place to learn about money management. And maybe even make it fun.

Pickens spearheaded plans for Comet Cents Financial Success Program, which opened this semester in the Student Success Center. Staffed by 11 trained volunteers and a paid coordinator, Comet Cents offers a place for students to learn the practical side of money, spending and debt.

“Studies over 15 to 20 years show that if you are exposed to financial literacy training between the ages of 16 and 24, you will have a higher net worth, lower debt and more investments,” Pickens said.

Kimshi Hickman, the center's assistant dean

Kimshi Hickman

Comet Cents staff, all upper-level finance students whom Pickens taught, answer questions they receive via email, phone or in-person. The staffers also present financial literacy information to incoming freshmen in the required UNIV 1010 freshman seminar course.

“They are tutors of money,” Pickens said of the student volunteers. “That’s what they are.”

Comet Cents offers several opportunities for students to gain personal finance knowledge. One planned event is March Money Madness, a campus competition during college basketball’s tournament season. Student teams will compete by shooting baskets and answering personal finance questions. Winners will earn money for tuition.

Adding the financial literacy piece to the Student Success Center is critical to UT Dallas’ mission, said Kimshi Hickman, the center’s assistant dean.

“It will impact student retention. It keeps you on track to graduate on time,” Hickman said. “Managing financial issues is just like managing grades — students need a plan.”

About Comet Cents

Location: MC 1.413 in the Eugene McDermott Library

Walk-in hours: 2 to 4 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 9 to 11 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday

Phone: 972-883-2469

Email: [email protected]

For additional information, visit the Comet Cents website.

Pickens, who has several professional certifications in financial planning and management as well as years of professional experience helping others manage their money, spent about five years researching 150 other campus-based financial learning offices across the nation.

At first, he envisioned he would deliver all the Comet Cents programs. That changed when State Farm provided a $40,000 grant, allowing the Student Success Center to expand the program’s reach.

Alexa Novoa, a finance senior, is the program’s coordinator. She said she came to appreciate the value of financial planning in high school.

“My father had cancer and incurred high medical bills. I came to the realization that I would be solely responsible for paying for my college tuition,” she said. “I did not want to incur debt by taking out loans.”

What started as a personal mission has now become Novoa’s professional goal.

“First, I hope to impact students in a positive way by providing them with the tools necessary to make sound financial decisions,” she said. “I also hope to gain experience in personal finance and grow in my understanding of students’ needs and how to best coach them.”

Hickman said this peer-to-peer engagement works.

“It makes an impact on student success,” she said.  

In addition to Comet Cents, the Student Success Center, on the first floor of Eugene McDermott Library, employs 220 students for peer instruction — from class-specific tutoring to the Math Lab and the Writing Center.

State Farm Grant Expands Comet Cents Offerings

A $40,000 grant from State Farm helped expand initial plans for Comet Cents, said Jared Pickens, the Naveen Jindal School of Management senior lecturer who spearheaded the campuswide financial literacy program. The grant provided funding to hire Alexa Novoa, the Comet Cents’ student coordinator, and to purchase material for peer-to-peer advisors and financial literacy classes.

Michael Hidalgo Grimes, public affairs specialist with State Farm, said the grant is a good fit with his company’s mission — to support educational efforts to promote financial literacy for students so they can better understand credit, budgeting, debt, savings and more.

The University of Texas at Dallas is among a handful of universities that has received financial support from State Farm.

“The Comet Cents program is unique because, by educating students on financial literacy during their college years, they will be better prepared to successfully handle financial matters when they graduate and enter the workforce,” Grimes said. “We hope that through our philanthropic efforts, we can help build safer, stronger and better educated communities.”

The State Farm grant also covered some setup costs for outfitting the newly renovated Comet Cents office in the Student Success Center.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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