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Six hundred Auburn student volunteers taught financial concepts like saving and budgeting
to about 700 sixth graders from Lee County Schools on the Auburn campus Oct. 27, 2023
as part of the Tiger$ense outreach program. Photo by Allie Dyleski
Making and sticking to a budget is like exercise—everyone knows they should do it, but how many people actually do? Apparently not enough, particularly among Gen Z, whose average credit card debt rose 40% last year to $2,800, according to Credit Karma. The Auburn Tiger$ense financial literacy outreach program is doing its part to change that for the next generation.
Started by School of Accountancy faculty member Sarah Stanwick in 2012, Tiger$ense is the largest outreach program in the Harbert College of Business. Typically held at one or more local schools, Harbert student volunteers teach local children basic financial skills like budgeting, calculating a tip, and setting savings goals through fun games and activities.
The most recent session, though, brought 700 sixth grade students from multiple Lee County schools to the Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum on campus in late October. Six hundred Auburn student volunteers taught the sixth graders the difference between credit, debit and savings accounts; how to set and achieve financial goals; avoiding identity theft; understanding paychecks, among other financial concepts.
“I know the kids aren’t going to take away everything we teach them, but if they just take away one little point about financial wellness, that’s great,” said Stanwick, who has served as program director from the start. “I would also like for them to look at the Auburn students, and see role models, and think ‘I want to go to college.’”
A teacher's gratitude
The timing of the event and festive atmosphere impressed sixth-grade math teacher Ralph Simmons from West Smiths Station Elementary School.
“This event came at the perfect time for us,” said Simmons. “We’re teaching sales tax, tax rates, and how to figure percentages, so this goes along with everything the state of Alabama has us teach. We’re taking a big test in a couple of weeks and this will help the students.”
Professor Jonathan Stanley, School of Accountancy acting director, is delighted with the engagement and activity that occurs at Tiger$ense each year.
Sarah Stanwick started Tiger$ense in 2012. She estimates that the program has reached
8,500 Lee County students. Photo by Allie Dyleski
“As accounting professors we’re passionate about financial literacy and to get interest from this age group is exciting for us,” Stanley said. “It’s also a great service learning project for our students. I have such admiration and respect for what Dr. Stanwick has done with this.”
While many Auburn students receive extra course credit for participating, some were there because they had a positive experience in previous years when they were enrolled in one of Stanwick’s classes.
Management senior and Auburn basketball center Dylan Cardwell, who took a class with Stanwick in spring 2023, made a guest appearance at the recent event to support his former professor.
“I just want to give back to the community in my free time,” said Cardwell, who accepted Stanwick’s invitation to interact with the kids. “I want the kids to know that financial literacy is very important.”
Marketing junior Caitlin Ayers was participating in her second Tiger$ense because she enjoyed last year’s event, which enabled her to get extra credit as a student in Stanwick’s managerial accounting class.
“Professor Stanwick does this out of the kindness of her heart,” said Ayers, who interacted with the students during a panel discussion about college life at the October event. “She plans this because she cares about our community and our students.”
Stanwick has put together a dynamic organizing team to help her successfully pull off an event of this scale. Among them is accountancy graduate assistant Tate Sparkman, who has been with Tiger$ense since he was an undergraduate and is currently the lead operations staffer.
“We want the kids to not only understand the value of a dollar, but also be thinking about careers and education and how to get where they want to be,” said Sparkman. “The most fun part for me is talking to the kids and getting them to understand that things just don’t happen. They have to gradually learn and continue to build themselves up to reach the different goals they have in mind.”
An alumna's generosity
Funding for Tiger$ense primarily comes from the generous support of Auburn alumna Brooke Peebles Walker, senior director of sales tax at Chick-fil-A Inc., whose parents owned a small business and taught her the importance of budgeting, paying bills and saving—skills that Walker said set her up for career success.
"Upon learning about Sarah's passion for advancing financial literacy through Tiger$ense, I recognized a unique opportunity to honor the enduring legacy of my parents," Walker said. "I believe that fostering financial literacy is not just a tribute to my past, but [is] a meaningful investment in the future financial well-being of individuals and communities."
In addition to Walker's financial support, she provided this year's young participants with Chick-fil-A plush cows designed specifically for the event.
During the last 11 years, Stanwick estimates that Tiger$ense has reached about 8,500 Lee County individuals—mostly sixth graders, but also high school students and students enrolled in a special needs program through the local park district and through Auburn.
In addition to Tiger$ense, the School of Accountancy conducts other financial literacy outreach programs through two student-run organizations—NABA Inc. and Beta Alpha Psi, which conducted financial wellness activities at Opelika and Auburn high schools earlier this fall.
The Harbert College of Business which is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Raymond and Kathryn Harbert's transformational naming gift, is a nationally ranked hub of undergraduate, graduate and continuing business education that is inspiring the next generation of business leaders. Our world-class faculty deliver unparalleled academic rigor in the classroom, while our research-driven scholarship advances thought leadership and best practice across business disciplines. The largest college on Auburn's campus, Harbert enrolls more than 6,900 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students.