To address students’ widespread money confusion, Oscar Solis, PhD, has upper-level consumer finance students teach first-years the essentials.
Associate Professor of Finance, West Texas A&M University in Canyon
PhD and MS in Personal Financial Planning, MS in Interdisciplinary Studies, BBA in General Business
Lone Star State native Oscar Solis, PhD, has been intrigued by finance since he was 12 years old. That is when he saw firsthand its impact on his family.
“The reason I got interested in money is that, growing up, we had limited resources,” he says. “We had a humble home, food, and shelter—and my parents did their best.” As faithful churchgoers, they always tithed, too. But they never had enough credit for larger purchases like a new car—a fact that he did not begin to understand until middle school. “I wanted to know how we could get good credit,” says Dr. Solis. He became determined to learn more about how to build wealth, not only for his own gain but in order to give back to “causes that matter.”
Today, as an associate professor of finance at West Texas A&M University, Solis continues to use his time, talent, and treasure to give back to those around him—and to encourage all of his students to do the same. One of his favorite sayings is: If you want to learn something, teach it. It is a motto that has helped shape his instruction methodology, with compounding benefits to students in two of his courses.
Students lack basic knowledge of personal finance
As a finance professor, Solis is often surprised that students have very little understanding of their own finances. He knows that many of his students are working, taking out loans, and struggling financially while they take his class. This made him look for new ways to make course material relevant for their lives, so they will be better prepared to take charge of their financial futures. “It’s a given that they’ll learn the information,” Solis says, “but I want to take it to another level so they can apply the information.”
Turn finance students into personal finance teachers
While at Virginia Tech, Solis organized a peer-to-peer instruction event (one he plans to bring to West Texas A&M as well) in which his upper-level Financial Counseling students offer financial information to their underclassmen Personal Finance peers, many of whom have not had exposure to financial planning basics (e.g., savings, retirement, home buying, etc.). This is beneficial for all involved. The upper-level students learn that helping others is a valuable and rewarding activity, and the first- and second-year students gain insights that may reduce their current (and future) financial struggles.
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Organize a peer-to-peer financial educational event
An emphasis on peer-to-peer education has helped Solis create a mutually beneficial project for students in two of his classes, Financial Counseling and Personal Finance. The project culminates in a final event in which upper-level students teach first-year students about financial concepts that can impact their lives.
To foster these financial conversations, Solis has his Financial Counseling students create infographics and prepare talking points that will help them reach their peers.
Here, Solis shares the key steps he takes to bring this lesson to life:
Set the tone immediately
“In the first class, I let students know that this is going to be an interactive class with peer-to-peer activities and collaborative learning,” Solis says. Often, he says, students are caught off guard by this. “If they want to sit back and play with their phones, they realize they’ll have to think again.”
Be clear about expectations
“I go over the specifics of what this event will be,” Solis says of the two-hour sessions. He notes that he had never heard of anything like this before, which means his students have probably never done anything like this before.
Find a suitable space to meet
Solis says it took some extra work to locate and set up a presentation space, but he has found that the library works well. The room must be large enough to allow room for private discussions as well as group presentations. Recently, Solis had 33 upperclassmen working with 130 student “clients,” though this could be made to work with different numbers (as long as there is a good teacher-to-client ratio). “It’s a given that [students will] learn financial information [in my course], but I want to take it to another level so they can apply the information.”
“It’s a given that [students will] learn financial information [in my course], but I want to take it to another level so they can apply the information.”— Oscar Solis, PhD
Have students form teams for the project
Solis has his Financial Counseling students break into six teams of about five students each. Every team prepares an infographic on one of six financial topics, as well as the “top 10” things the Financial Counseling students feel that the Personal Finance students need to know. Topics have included saving for college, banking for college students, insurance, renting vs. buying, apps for money management, and paying for graduate school, among others. Solis collaborates with the students to determine which top-10 ideas they will cover at the event, based on the key priorities that have been covered in his class up to that point.
Teach students how to teach well
To prepare his upper-level students for their role as peer educators, Solis introduces them to a variety of learning strategies that are considered effective and engaging. The approaches include active learning, storytelling, and peer-to-peer talks that highlight the practical application of the information covered in the classroom.
Provide interim deadlines and work checks
“I provide timelines of when the Financial Counseling students need to provide drafts of their presentations and when they should finalize their work,” says Solis. “This ensures they work on the project steadily throughout the course, which helps reinforce the topics they are learning along the way.”
As part of their feedback, Solis also evaluates each team’s infographic to make sure that the information is accurate and presented in a clear, engaging way. And he asks the students to consider the questions they are likely to be asked by the audience and to prepare answers in advance.
Keep the groups together on presentation day
Once the infographics are final and his Financial Counseling students are ready to present, Solis brings all the students—the Financial Counseling “teachers” and the Personal Finance “clients”—together in the library. Six wall-mounted television screens display each of the infographics, with the corresponding student team standing beside it. The freshmen and sophomores circulate throughout the library, viewing the infographics. The instructing students use the visual aids as a reference as they present information and answer follow-up questions.
Quiz the audience to gauge effectiveness
Did the Financial Counseling students do a good job presenting? To find out, Solis creates quizzes with fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice questions covering all six of the topics, then hands them out to the Personal Finance students after the presentations. He creates three variations of the quiz so that students cannot easily copy answers from each other and, as a result, the scores will provide a more reliable metric of success.
And what did the quizzes show from the latest event? The Personal Finance students performed well, which means they had, indeed, learned from their peer mentors. Meanwhile, many of the Financial Counseling students noted that they had not realized how much they had learned until they started sharing information with the other group.
It is a time-consuming lesson, Solis admits, but he feels it is worth the extra effort: By showing his Financial Counseling students how much they know—and can help—he hopes he will inspire them to continue “paying it forward” long after they leave school.
Solis is currently teaching at West Texas A&M, where he hopes to continue to increase financial awareness and collaboration between students in his upper-level and introductory courses.