By Adele Johnsen '02
Last year, after Rosy Fynn '03 finished her summer job, she decided to invest some of her earnings. "I wanted to invest, that was all I knew, but I had no idea where to go or what to doand so I just ended up spending the money," she says. A year later, thanks to Smith's new Women and Financial Independence Program, Fynn is much more savvy about investment. "I know how to think about money, I know what to do with it and I'm more confident when it comes to making decisions about it," she says.
The program, which was formally launched this fall, aims to provide Smith students like Fynn with the practical skills and knowledge they need to address financial issues in their personal and professional lives. Started with $2.5 million in seed money, provided by Goldman Sachs & Co. and trustee and Smith alumna Ann Kaplan, the program involves a series of workshops, panels and noncredit courses, all designed to instruct students in the language of financial literacy. Though it is run by members of the economics department, the program targets students who have little or no previous experience with economics. "Everyone needs to know how to manage her financial life," stresses Mahnaz Mahdavi, director of the Women and Financial Independence Program and an associate professor in the economics department.
Indeed, Smith students from all disciplines became eager participants in the program's offerings throughout the fall semester. More than 120 participants filled Neilson Browsing Room on Wednesdays for economics professor Jim Miller's lectures on "Interpreting Financial News," and nearly 200 students flocked to Stoddard Auditorium on Monday nights to hear Professor Randy Bartlett speak about "Financing Life." "Student support has been just enormous," says Mahdavi, and "we've received a lot of inquiries from students who want to be directly involved in the program." The program already has 13 student interns, who help faculty members conduct research and staff the pro-gram's comfortably furnished drop-in center, located at 52 Green Street. There they offer financial advice and help interested students use the center's resources, which include books, newspapers, computers and financial software.
Other students will have opportunities to participate and pitch in as the Women and Financial Independence Program expands its focus and its offerings. An investment club, to be run by a committee of students, is already in the works. Participants will invest funds donated by an alumna "and treat the money as an endowment with a take-out rate," Mahdavi explains. "Five percent of whatever we make will be donated to the Student Government Association ... the rest goes back into the endowment." Students already involved in the Women and Financial Independence Program have expressed a strong interest in the investment club; "a lot of people ask 'Has the investment club started yet? When? When?'" Mahdavi says. While WFI interns are still researching the details of the investment club and laying its constitutional groundwork, Mahdavi expects to launch it in spring 2002.
Additional plans for the Women and
Financial Independence Program include an interterm course on
"Stocks and Bonds: Principles of Investing in Financial
Assets." Taught by economics professor Roger Kaufman, the
course will include a trip to the New York Stock Exchange and
visits to a number of trading rooms in New York. In the spring,
the program will offer a survey course in entrepreneurship, led
by staff members from Boston's Center for Women and
That's just one inequity the Women and Financial Independence Program hopes to address by providing Smith students with an early education in financial matters. While women live longer than men, they also spend less time in the work force, and eventually make up a startling 75 percent of the elderly poor. "For too long women have been told not to worry about money, that 'someone else will take care of that,'" says Mahdavi in a statement on the program's Web site. "The reality is that you are not truly independent until and unless you are financially independent."
"I've very rarely been taught about finances, especially as a woman," agrees Ada Comstock Scholar Tiffany Reed.
"And there's a power in understanding the workings of money that gives anybody a sense of individual freedom. Because society has often educated men more on that, women have lacked that sense of freedom." As a participant in the Women and Financial Independence Program's courses, however, Reed feels that she's finally getting some of the "groundwork" in financial education that she had lacked earlier in life. "I am so grateful to have this program. The lectures and courses are helping me to see the big picture, and it's wonderful that you don't have to sit in an academic environment where you're being graded to understand all this."
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