Financial literacy mentoring program provides 'lifeline' for Penn State students

The Mentoring Program in the Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center, launched in fall 2019, pairs Penn State students with alumni, faculty or staff mentors. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — From webinars to one-on-one counseling to self-study modules, the range of financial literacy programming available to Penn State students through the Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center is uniquely broad within American higher education, and it became even broader when the center launched the Mentoring Program last fall. Since then, Penn State students have benefited from the perspectives of those who’ve been there before.

“We wanted to create a service that provides students with a financial literacy lifeline they can access quickly and easily,” said Daad Rizk, director of the Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center. “Mentors are just a phone call or email away, and they provide students with the security of knowing they can talk to someone who has experience managing personal finances.”

The program pairs current Penn State students with mentors affiliated with the University as alumni, faculty, staff or friends. Mentors and mentees meet online as often as students need. To date, the center has paired 108 mentors with mentees, and new pairs are added regularly.

Jessica Ho, a junior economics major from Victoria, Texas, said she is grateful for the opportunity to work with a financial literacy mentor. Ho explained that she was not familiar with the financial aid landscape at Penn State prior to matriculating, but she hopes to secure as much aid as possible before she graduates in 2021. With a passion for real estate, she said she aims to graduate with minimal debt so she can purchase a house as a young adult.

Jessica Ho is working with mentor Tracy Riegel to explore a range of funding sources for her Penn State education. Credit: Steve Tressler / Penn StateCreative Commons

Ho’s mentor, Tracy Riegel, is helping Ho to explore the range of options available to her, from federal aid to private scholarships. Riegel, who graduated from the College of Health and Human and Development and lives in Philadelphia, was inspired to serve as a mentor after observing that her three daughters, all of whom graduated from the College of Engineering, were bright and capable but lacked a basic understanding of personal finance.

“They didn’t know how to write a check or manage credit cards, and I thought, ‘Someone needs to do something,’” she said.

Riegel is ideally positioned to fill this need for Penn State students, having worked for investment management firm the Vanguard Group before retiring to raise her children. She said she looks forward to working with many more students like Ho.   

Some mentor-mentee pairs have emphasized the life skills side of the equation. Kobi Galvis, a Penn State senior from Philadelphia who is majoring in information sciences and technology and economics, is learning a great deal from mentor Kyle Shoop, a 2014 Smeal College of Business graduate with a degree in finance. After he graduates in May, Galvis will transition from life as a student to life as a young professional. He has accepted a position as a technology consulting associate with PwC in New York City. Shoop, who himself works in New York City as a wealth management consultant, has offered Galvis advice on making the leap from college to the corporate world, having been in his shoes just a few years ago.

Kobi Galvis is working with mentor Kyle Shoop to prepare for life after graduation. Credit: Steve Tressler / Penn StateCreative Commons

“Kyle is a great resource,” said Galvis. “We have so much in common. He’s just a few years ahead of me, so he can really relate to what I’m going through.”

Shoop said he is glad to share the lessons he’s learned as a young adult. “Since graduating I’ve made a lot of smart decisions, and a few not-so-smart decisions,” he said. “If I can help Kobi to avoid making the same mistakes I did, then those mistakes will not have been entirely in vain.”

Although their mentor/mentee relationship will officially end once Galvis graduates, the two said they look forward to connecting in person once they are both living in New York City.

As the demand for financial literacy education continues to grow among Penn State students, Rizk said she hopes to see the Mentoring Program expand to five or six hundred pairs in the years to come.

Students interested in learning from a financial literacy mentor can find more information and apply here. Mentor information and applications can be found here.

About Achieve Penn State

The Mentoring Program is part of Achieve Penn State, an initiative which supports hard-working students and their families by helping them plan for their future by eliminating obstacles so they can graduate with lower debt and in less time. Achieve Penn State programs support students and families through institutional scholarships, summer school and on-campus employment, financial literacy and campus transitions to help students experience all that Penn State has to offer.  

To learn more about Achieve Penn State, contact

Last Updated April 15, 2021