What started out as a class project for four Virginia Tech seniors and aspiring financial planners has turned into one of the most rewarding experiences of their college careers, say the participants. 

In recognition of their innovative ideas in solving America’s retirement program, the team won the grand prize in the 2011 iOME Challenge competition. They also received a $10,000 cash prize and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in late April to present their ideas to members of Congress and policymakers.

The annual competition encourages the 80 million members of the millennial generation, to help solve America’s retirement problem and change the world by investing now in their own lifelong financial security.

Students Allison Perdue of White Hall, Md.; Paula Craun of Bridgewater, Va.; Jamie Kerr of Richmond, Va.; and Matt Maranowski of Pittsburgh, Pa., began working on their award winning submission as part of a project in Assistant Professor Hyrum Smith’s retirement planning class in fall 2011. 

Shedding light on Virginia Tech and its award-winning financial planning program is one of the highlights about the upcoming trip, said Maranowski and Kerr. They also share the excitement to network with such a distinguished group of political leaders. They say they hope to meet the competition’s judges as well.

“The sky’s the limit,” said Marnowski. “Who knows what contacts we might make, who we might impress.”

The students were challenged to write an essay and produce a 60-second video, answering the question: Why do people today feel it is much harder to engage in financial savings than earlier generations when, on average, the earlier generations were much poorer than today? What would you propose as a solution to change and increase savings rates?

The winning answer, which is detailed in their 25-page essay – is the need for an increase in hands-on financial education and availability of financial counseling.

“Financial planning classes should be mandatory at the high school and undergraduate levels so you get ideas on how, and why, to save [money],” said Kerr.

“So many kids just aren’t being taught these things at home,” said Maranowski who was excited to put his longtime filmmaking hobby to use to communicate just that to his fellow millennials.

Competing against 30 college teams of more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students across the country. Perdue, Craun, Kerr, and Maranowski were judged on how innovative, well researched, and economically and politically sound their work was, as well as how well it resonated with the millennial generation.

“Not only did they relate well to their peers [in the video], their paper was very well written,” said Smith, explaining that their essay rivaled the work of the Ph.D. students who won the 2010 competition. “They are really phenomenal students – very capable in many ways and reflect the quality of students in our financial planning program,” said Smith who will receive a $2,000 cash prize.

In late April, Smith will accompany the students on an all-expense paid trip to the award reception in Washington, D.C., where the students will present their ideas to members of Congress.  

Perdue and Craun, both of whom graduated in December 2011, majored in applied economic management, with a concentration in financial planning, within the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Both are working in the financial industry.

Kerr and Maranowski are seniors majoring in applied economic management with a concentration in financial planning within the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. Winning this competition, they say, is an amazing way to end their tenure at Virginia Tech.

This year’s judges included

  • Marty Merzer, Miami Herald retired journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner;
  • Laura Schwartz, former White House director of events in the Clinton administration;
  • Angela Lyons, associate professor and director of the Center for Economic and Financial Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign;
  • Michael Price, assistant professor of economics at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville; and
  • Charles Wise, Founding director of the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State University, and three-time recipient of the William and Frederick Mosher Award.

The award-winning essay and video are available online.

Virginia Tech’s financial planning program  was recently recognized by Financial Planning Magazine as one of the top 10 schools in financial planning education across the country.



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