#FridayFollow: How a Recent AFC Grad is Impacting College Finances

Dr. Thamara Barthelus, AFC®, is a Financial Wellness Consultant at The University of Tulsa. In her role, she empowers students to make informed financial decisions that result in a healthy and thriving future. 

AFCPE: What led you to a career in personal finance? And what inspires you to continue doing this work today? 

Thamara: My career in personal finance began after graduating from college. I worked for a financial institution where my role included teaching financial literacy courses throughout the community. It was then that I realized that financial competency did not come with age. As I taught banking basics to many unbanked and underbanked individuals, it became apparent that if a conscious decision was not made to learn money management, financial struggles would ultimately ensue. The best time to offer this type of support is in college, when students are beginning their life of independence. 

AFCPE: Personal finance looks different for college students. No matter their level (undergrad, graduate or doctoral), college students have a lot of expenses and not a lot of income, which leads to student loan debt. What advice would you give to professionals working with college students, or even recent grads?

Thamara: I would advise professionals working with college students and graduates to remember five points. 

  1. Tailor Your Support.  To effectively assist your students, it is important to know and understand their needs. While the use of national data provides a statistical overview of student needs, it is imperative that time is taken to assess YOUR university’s demographic. If an internal assessment cannot be conducted, consider participating in the annual Trellis Financial Wellness Survey. It provides insights shared by students about their financial well-being as it relates to paying for college, their personal finances, and perceived institutional support. An awareness of the students’ needs and perceptions enables you to develop relevant services with evidence-based solutions. 
  2. Don’t Work in a Silo:  The successful implementation of services will require interdepartmental collaboration and external resources. Often students will make inquiries that extend beyond the services you provide. Developing a network of partners and individuals who can add to the services you provide is key to effectively guiding students. 
  3. Be Student-Centered:  Programming must accommodate student schedules. This can be done by providing different modes of access to services such as in-person workshops, webinars, classroom presentations, and one-on-one coaching. This ensures students have access to services in a manner that is considerate of their personal responsibilities and preferences. 
  4. Truth is Power: It can be challenging to share a financial analysis that is less than ideal to students. However, providing students with the truth and a path forward better equips them to make wise decisions now and supports students’ overall financial wellness, even if it requires delayed gratification. 
  5. Keep Learning: It is imperative that professionals continue expanding their knowledge and remain current on new developments affecting personal finance. The federal student loan moratorium and student loan forgiveness are examples of issues that continue to evolve and require a financial professional to remain in the know in order to provide students and graduates with appropriate guidance.  

AFCPE: You have recently earned your AFC. How did you learn about the certification and why did you decide to pursue the AFC? 

Thamara: A former supervisor encouraged me to pursue the AFC certification to develop credibility and increase my knowledge. It was one of the best decisions I made.                                                                           

AFCPE: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about working in personal finance and/or earning their AFC? 

Thamara: Take every opportunity to expand your knowledge. The AFC certification should propel you to learn more. The more you know, the more effective you become. The world of finance continues to evolve, we must evolve with it.

AFCPE: It’s amazing to be celebrating 30 years of the AFC! How has the AFC made an impact on your career and on the field of personal finance

Thamara: AFC has been a lifeline for me. As I transitioned from banking to academia, I gained the confidence needed throughout the certification process. As the only financial wellness consultant for the university, it can be daunting addressing all student financial concerns. Prior to earning my AFC certification, the College Finance Essentials and Money Management Essentials training gave me assurance that the information provided to students was accurate, relevant, and up-to-date.  Throughout the semester, I have professors and staff ask for classroom presentations on specific topics related to personal finance. Although the inquiry was made for their students, often the staff/professor used it as an opportunity to address their personal financial needs as well.  

AFCPE: Tell us about a project or initiative you are currently working on?

Thamara: The project I am currently working on is a scholarship assistance program. The program will provide steps to applying for scholarships as well as guidance for completing essay questions. My hope is to increase the number of scholarship recipients while decreasing student loan borrowing. 

AFCPE: What is the best way to connect with you (social links, etc.)?

 Email- thamara-barthelus@utulsa.edu 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/tbarthelus 

Thamara Answers the Friday 5:

  • My Why: To help the next generation navigate the complexities of personal finance. 
  • My Favorite Quote: “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” ~ Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
  • My Hero: Desmond Tutu
  • My Favorite Resource: Honestly, when it comes to personal finance, my favorite resource is AFCPE’s Connected Community. I have access to a community of experts who are open and willing to share their knowledge. I cannot recount the many times I received an inquiry from a student or staff member that had me stumped. When that happens, I immediately post my question to the community and receive several responses within a matter of hours. You can’t beat that. 
  • My Best Advice: Do not be afraid to reach out for help.
    • For someone starting the journey to financial well-being: Be patient with yourself. Accept where you are and keep pushing forward. You will achieve your financial goals.
    • For a new professional: Network. Connect with others in the field. Share your expertise while gaining from others. 
  • For someone starting the journey to financial well-being: Automate your savings! 
  • For a new professional: Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel like you’re struggling. 

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