$martMoney Week Becomes Model For Nebraska

Mary RittenhouseMary Ritterhouse
director of the Center for Economic Education

In 1997, Robert Perry, former CEO and president of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank, said that increasing the economic literacy of a population is not simply preparing the next generation of workers, but it is preparing the next generation of citizens.

Now, marry the sentiment behind that statement with the commitment of UNK to the Kearney community, the region and the state, and you have the vision and mission of the UNK Center for Economic Education.

Housed in the College of Business and Technology, the center shares more than 20 years of UNK’s history. Established in 1985 to provide a resource for K-12 teachers wanting to incorporate economics into their curriculum, the general purpose of the center was to promote a better understanding of economics and our economic system by establishing a curriculum library and offering workshops to train teachers.

Today, that general purpose remains, but it has evolved to more efficiently interact with the UNK community, whether it is with UNK students, the city of Kearney, the region, or a broader, more global community. The mission has expanded to include outreach programs that allow the center to collaborate with other entities sharing the same passion. By contributing to and partnering with existing programs and networks, it is possible to share information with a larger population and to increase visibility for UNK.

Two of the center’s primary initiatives include increasing awareness of personal financial management and entrepreneurship, both domestic and global. In a recent speech, Dr. Robert F. Duvall, president and chief executive officer of the National Council on Economic Education, said: “An educated populace, armed with the knowledge to make sound savings and retirement decisions, can pave the way to a stronger economy in the future… citizens educated in economics will be better equipped to make informed decisions in evaluating debates over Social Security and retirement policy.”

My appreciation for outreach programs that allowed collaboration of entities who shared the same concern really found depth with me when I was the economic education specialist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. I saw firsthand how, through the sharing of ideas and resources, outcome possibilities expanded greatly. It was not about ownerships of the idea; it was about the results…to increase the distribution of information to all who need it.

We live in an advanced economy, and it requires an advanced ability for decision-making. In addition, as we all know, the more informed we are about something, the better decisions we can make. The same is true about our financial matters. Today, savings and investment options require us to be informed. It’s not the market our grandparents faced.

In the fall of 2004, after returning to UNK, I began the foundation of the center’s premier annual project– $martMoney Week. Held the first week of November, $martMoney Week is the effort of one association made up of diverse organizations. It is the culmination of a collaboration of businesses, educational and governmental units in Kearney and the region.

During the first week of November, events are held in open, town hall style formats, with information provided in presentation styles that supports and encourages discussion and questions. All of the events are free to the public, and all of the events provide information about acquiring and maintaining personal and family financial assets. From an early elementary activity on “What is money?” to identity theft to how to start your own business to international investing, there is something for everyone. There are no products or services to buy, no commitments required from participants, no pressure to buy is involved in any of these activities. Each activity is designed to fulfill one single purpose, and that is to provide free information from experts in the field about acquiring and maintaining personal and family financial assets through financial management or entrepreneurship.

The first $martMoney Week, held in 2005, provided 54 events to 761 community participants. The third annual $martMoney Week in 2007 offered 103 events to more than 1,000 community participants. Last fall, a statewide discussion began to increase the distribution of this vital information across the state using the $martMoney Week model.

The beauty of this one simple outreach program model is catching on across Nebraska. The goal of combining the people who have the information with the people with the questions is being realized with $martMoney Week. What about the future of the center? Personal financial literacy is more than managing your money; it’s also about accumulating wealth.While continuing to expand on the success of $martMoney Week, the center will explore other avenues to distribute information to K-12 students and to the community.

$martMoney Week 2008 is in its early organizational stages. Anyone wishing to contribute his or her talents or services is welcome to join. Contact information can be found on the $martMoney Week homepage: www.unk.edu/smartmoney. The center also participates in UNK’s Kidz University held at the annual Kidz Explore each spring. In addition to other K-12 student and teacher activities, the center is a partner for the Global Economic Gardening: An Alliance for Business and International Education in Rural Nebraska grant, and will supervise and produce K-12 webcasts on global entrepreneurship.

The goal of these webcasts is to form a connection with current classroom curriculum to help “plant the seed” of entrepreneurial abilities. The richness of this project is that from the writing to the editing and production of each webcast, UNK students from Phi Beta Lambda and the Hispanic Student Organization are putting their abilities to work. The results are fun, creative, educational webcasts on how to be a global entrepreneur in both English and Spanish.

As Nebraska, and the University of Nebraska at Kearney, grows and evolves in a dynamic economy, so does the Center for Economic Education. The tag line for $martMoney Week says it all: “It’s important to learn to manage money, because money doesn’t come with instructions!”