It’s an early spring afternoon and Bryan Cannon, principal of the Alliance Academy charter school, hits the streets with about a dozen seventh and eighth graders in tow. They turn right on Montgomery Road, then hang a left onto Dana Avenue.
Their destination—the polished wood, widescreens and brushed steel of the Fifth Third Trading Center, crown jewel of the Williams College of Business. Scheduled is a biweekly meeting with the student managers of Xavier’s D’Artagnan Capital Fund to discuss all things financial. And yes, there is pizza.
The meeting is part of the Financial Literacy Program, a student mentoring program masterminded by associate professor of finance David Hyland. For the past two years, he’s partnered with Alliance Academy to introduce middle school students to college students—and to the world of commerce. Together, they cover everything from balancing a checkbook to maintaining a stock portfolio.
“We get neighborhood kids who go by this place all the time and see this imposing thing they could never think of,” says Hyland. “We invite them on campus and tell them, hey, there are real people here, too, and there’s no reason why you can’t come here, or somewhere like here.”
“Last year my kids learned about stocks, investment and even basic things about banking and budgets,” says Cannon. “It was so beneficial for them to learn something they weren’t familiar with.”
The program is run by the Xavier students who also manage roughly $1.6 million of the University’s endowment through the D’Artagnan Capital Fund, which Hyland also oversees.
Why mix college business majors with middle school city kids? One reason is to add a human touch to a world that’s typically perceived as being driven by numbers and a bottom line.
Plus, Hyland clearly enjoys his role of mentoring mentors. “I’m a big believer in delegating. I view my role as more of a facilitator.”
But Hyland had only just begun to facilitate. Amid the professor, principal, middle-schoolers and college students, he added real-world experience in the person of Robert Donelan, a retired Fidelity Investments executive. Hyland wanted Donelan to bring his street-level perspective on finance to the pizza party.
“[Hyland] was like, ‘Hey, we’re doing something with the Alliance Academy, would you like to help me put something together on financial literacy?’ So I put a course curriculum together, which included things like: What are the basic things to do to get a job? How do you manage money? How do you invest money?”
They arranged for the kids to go to Fidelity’s operations in Covington, Ky., where most of its U.S. transactions are processed—a facility large enough to warrant its own zip code and where the glamour of Wall Street meets the reality of the back office. It was a trip, Donelan says, that gave the kids insights that everyone could use.
“You’d be surprised,” he says. “There are doctors and lawyers who haven’t got a clue as to how to manage their retirement savings. And the earlier you start kids, the better.”
The Alliance/Xavier partnership began in the spring of 2012 as, of all things, a simple stock market game. Cannon picked students from his own after-school male mentoring program to go to Xavier and play. Hyland, though, found himself looking forward to these meetings as much as the students.
“Every week the kids would come over, we’d have pizza or snacks, then fire up the computers and start looking at the stock market.”
With programs like Squawk Box on the wide screen, plus the dedicated D’Artagnan Fund streaming ticker, it felt like a real trading floor. “It’s fun for our Xavier students, because they get a chance to teach. For example, last year, one of the eighth graders wanted to buy stock in the Army.”
While trying to buy stock in a branch of the armed forces and field trips to massive fulfillment centers constitute—especially to an eighth grader—the glamorous side of big business, at the end of the school day, it’s becoming comfortable with the working world that’s most important to Hyland.
“We talk about budgeting and looking for a job and what kind of place might hire somebody their age,” he says. “And get the kids interacting with the college kids. We’re trying to get them to think about building a résumé, what sort of things can we do in the next four to five years that’s going to help them in college and with their careers.”