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November 29, 2011

UW-Eau Claire finance students help community turn finances around through FLIP: Apply now to be a spring 2012 mentor

FLIPTalking about one’s personal finances is an uncomfortable subject for many people. And it can be especially difficult for individuals who live paycheck to paycheck, have maxed out one or more credit cards, or have defaulted on a loan.

Many people have no idea how much they spend or how much debt they are in, according to Adrian Klenz, coordinator of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Financial Literacy Improvement Program (FLIP). 

“The need for reliable and useful financial information presented in an easy to understand format has never been greater,” said Klenz. “FLIP helps fill this gap by providing students to mentor community members who lack basic financial information.”

FLIP, a program of the UW-Eau Claire Department of Accounting and Finance, was originally established in 2009 as a pilot program with Western Dairyland community action agency. The program is now managed entirely by the Department of Accounting and Finance. See below for additional background information on the program.

UW-Eau Claire students who wish to be a FLIP mentor must formally apply to the program and they are interviewed by Klenz and Dr. Paul Vanderheiden, emeritus professor of finance. Students who are accepted into the program register for Finance 310, a course taught by Vanderheiden. The one-credit course prepares student volunteers to address basic financial issues, such as such as how to develop budgets, read and understand credit reports, develop a financial plan, and in some instances negotiating debt. Students also are taught how to work with a client and manage sensitive and confidential information.

“Building successful relationships with clients is the key to the success of a mentor,” adds Klenz.   
Once students have completed training, they are assigned to an individual or family. During weekly meeting, students work with their clients on financial issues specific to their needs.

The UW-Eau Claire program has been well received within the community.

“My FLIP mentors helped me get my expenses under control,” according to Timothy B, a past FLIP client. “Setting goals and meeting with my mentors weekly helped keep me on track,” he said.

Lisa L, a FLIP client, also offers positive feedback.

“I was apprehensive about starting the program,” said Lisa L. “But my FLIP mentors were never judgmental and always offered me encouragement and support,” she said.

FLIP also has a lot to offer student volunteers. Finance students get academic credit for the experience which they can apply towards their major. They also receive 15-service-learning-hours which satisfy half of the university’s 30-hour service-learning requirement.

“FLIP has offered me the chance to get credit for experience that is beneficial for a career in finance,” said current FLIP participant Tyler Ress.

Perhaps more importantly, FLIP offers participants a unique experience that cannot be duplicated within the walls of a classroom.

“FLIP volunteers experience the satisfaction of helping others while developing people skills and personal budgeting skills,” said Klenz.

UW-Eau Claire finance students who are interested in making a difference in the community while gaining real-life financial experience should consider participating in FLIP. Applications are currently being accepted for the spring 2012 FLIP, according to Klenz. An application can be found here. To learn more about FLIP, contact Adrian Klenz at or (715) 836-5705, or view the FLIP website.

About FLIP

The idea for the UW-Eau Claire financial literacy program originated with MBA student Anna Cardarella, who developed the plan for the program as part of a directed project she completed in Dr. Vlad Kotomin’s financial markets course. As assistant director of project employment for Western Dairyland, a community action agency that seeks “to alleviate poverty related conditions and provide opportunities which enable people to advance economically and socially”, Cardarella was keenly aware of the need for a financial literacy program in west central Wisconsin.

Cardarella and Kotomin received a one-time grant from AmeriCorp to establish FLIP. In addition to providing start-up funds, the grant provided some funds for Western Dairyland to hire Adrian Klenz to provide overall coordination for the program. Kotomin continued on with FLIP, serving as the campus coordinator responsible for recruiting, selecting, training and evaluating student financial mentors.

The pilot program was launched in Fall 2009 with 59 UW-Eau Claire student mentors and 49 community clients.

One year later, FLIP was in jeopardy of being discontinued due to lack of funding. The UW-Eau Claire Department of Accounting and Finance stepped in and took over management of the program.  Klenz was hired part-time by the department to serve as the FLIP coordinator. Dr. Paul Vanderheiden, emeritus professor of finance, replaced Kotomin, who left UW-Eau Claire for a position at Illinois State University.

To date, over 151 FLIP student volunteers have worked with 105 community members.

Contributors: Natasha Douglas, Cannon Falls, MN, Marketing; Kyle Henrics, Brown Deer, WI, Marketing; Jenny Jansky, Onalaska, WI, Human Resource Management; Gretchen Hutterli, COB

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