Shivani Desai, W’25, shares how Financial Wellness @ Penn promotes student financial empowerment and what the office has in store for Financial Literacy Month.

Since 2003, April has served as Financial Literacy Month, a period dedicated to the ever-growing need for Americans to understand the breadth of financial products out there and how they can take control over their financial futures with a little consciousness raising. Enter Financial Wellness @ Penn, a schoolwide resource dedicated to empowering students to make their own financial decisions and have fun along the way. Many Wharton students who are passionate about finance join the organization as peer educators; including Shivani Desai W’25, with whom Wharton Stories recently caught up to learn more about her experience as a peer educator during her time with Financial Wellness @ Penn.

An accomplished Wharton student, Shivani also participated in Venture Lab’s ground-breaking Bet on Entrepreneurship program.

Hello, Shivani. Can you please tell us more about your background?

I’m a second-year undergrad at Wharton studying Finance and Entrepeneurship. I’m originally from Atlanta, Georgia, and am the first in my family to attend college. With this in mind, education is very important to me, and seizing every opportunity I have here at Wharton is vital; thus, personal finance is one of my passions. It’s a great way to give back and help support my peers, whether they be my age, grad students, or any age. Outside of finance and entrepreneurship with startups, I learn languages on the side. I’m minoring in French. I travel with Penn as often as possible. I just did the Love Run half-marathon for the first time with no training; I’m still recovering! I’m not a runner.

What’s it like to live as a Wharton student here in Philadelphia? 

I LOVE Philadelphia. I knew I wanted to be somewhere more urban because, having come from Atlanta, the suburbs aren’t very walkable. Philadelphia is so vibrant. Last night, my friend and I needed a break and we took a walk to the river. Having the chance to go off campus and engage with a fun, artistic city enriches my college experience in a holistic and powerful way. I love the public transport here, too, because there are so many adventures to be had; always something to do, like going to Penn’s Landing, or visiting Clark’s Park Farmers Market in West Philly. I’ve never had a dull day in the city.

Describe Financial Wellness @ Penn, and the story of your involvement thus far.

Financial Wellness @ Penn is a Division of Finance-sponsored program sponsored by Penn. We’re located in the Franklin building, close to all financial offices. We aim to provide financial wellness education; we want to empower Penn students across campus to make the best decisions for their future. We offer one-on-one peer counseling to discuss any concerns people have. I’ve gone through taxes, loans, concerns about budgeting, you name it. 

We host workshops for student groups and other organizations by request. I’ve gone to college houses, I’ve gone to fraternities, I’ve gone to grad and undergrad student organizations, anything. We’ll discuss off-campus housing, credit (my favorite), investing, budgeting, anything. We’ll be a resource to whoever needs it. We also do pop-ups around campus. My role entails doing counseling, of all ages, and we have undergrad and grad members of the team. I applied on a whim, but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. 

I knew I was interested in personal finance, but I didn’t know I’d be in an office with such a welcoming and community-driven culture. Lyndsi Burcham C’19, my boss, is a Penn alum and she’s an excellent mentor. The other folks in the office are my really close friends. We have people of all walks of life who want to have fun while learning and teaching. When I got hired last year, there were so many pandemic restrictions, but this year has been exciting as things crank back up to full speed. Now that I have the experience to do these things more casually, I feel excited.

At the end of my freshman year, I mentioned to Lyndsi that, while our logo is cool, I thought it would be cooler to bring the pig to life as the organization’s official mascot and utilize the suit for promotional opportunities. A month later, two customized, inflatable pig suits arrived at the office; and of course, I ended up inside. Our social media presence grew with that. We do pop-ups on Locust Walk regularly with our merchandise. It’s a great way to spread positivity and our brand itself.

Business by day, pig suit by night: Shivani Desai W’25 helps make personal finance fun.

What are some of the resources offered by Financial Wellness @ Penn?

As I mentioned before, we have one-on-one counseling, with 45-minute sessions you can sign up for as often as you like. We also have drop-in counseling hours in locations all around campus. College offices will ask if they can reserve a couple hours of standing counseling time for shifts at their locations, like at the LGBT Center. These are typically 20-minute walk-in appointments who haven’t dropped by our regular counseling sessions.

We have two series of workshops, as well. We have our regular series of public workshops and then we do workshops by request. We set our own schedule for public workshops, like a budgeting workshop early in the year; plus off-campus workshops, then tax workshops near tax season. They’ll happen at 10am and always have food. Plus, any group that would like a workshop can request one on any subject of interest, like handling debt, investing, credit, and more. Credit 101 is my favorite and I love when my friends ask me questions about building credit.

We have a plethora of resources on our website, including a word-bank-esque glossary of terminology that may arise in specific financial situations. I’ve received feedback from students, particularly those who are navigating financial aid, who have shared it’s been helpful. We also have links to budgeting templates that people can try out. Budgeting isn’t one-size-fits-all, so we hope students try many templates. We have additional links for student aid.

April is Financial Literacy Month. What has Financial Wellness @ Penn done so far?

So far, we hosted a big pop-up event on campus that featured a giant game board and spinning wheel with financial questions. We also had an oversized Jeopardy board, plus all kinds of personal finance games. We had catering from Masala Kitchen and donuts. Students could earn “Penny Bucks” and redeem those for prizes, like sweaters and hats and disposable cameras. We had a cash tube of sorts, as well. I went out in the pig suit and grabbed students who were lounging to try it out. Students learn what they can and we share our services.

As a business school student, what does financial literacy mean to you?

It’s the baseline knowledge that I need to have, so it’s about educating myself before I educate others. A lot of the focus at Wharton is on corporate lingo, asset management, and managing money for others. It’s not essential to our education to learn about our own finances. But, as a first-generation low-income (FGLI) student who works multiple jobs, I’m trying to make sure I get here as best as I can. It’s difficult to find productive conversations around financial literacy and money management, and FGLI students are looking for that. 

Successful Transition and Empowerment Program, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Group, and Wharton 1Gen help spread the word, but for me, it’s important for me to feel confident that I can talk about my own investments and speak with confidence on money before I go make investment decisions on the corporate level. A lot of the firms for whom I intern appreciate the efforts of Financial Wellness @ Penn. There’s an information gap that needs to be filled for people who don’t have older family members or peers or friends who can help or people you can hire to manage your finances. I hope I’ve helped empower my peers to take control of their finances while we go on to help our future employers post-graduation.  

– By Devon Chodzin and Grace Meredith

Posted: April 21, 2023

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