College is the first time many students have ownership over their finances and must navigate tuition payments, student loans and budgeting. The Money Education Center, or MEC, at Texas A&M seeks to educate students on money practices so they can achieve financial wellness.
The MEC offers a variety of services, from one-on-one advising to a three-hour class on the foundations of money education. The course is currently classified as agricultural economics 235, or AGEC 235. The center is home to a large staff of both student and full-time workers. Yecenia Rojas, Class of 2019, took AGEC 235 her senior year, which led to a job as a money education advisor at the MEC.
“Being a first-generation student, I wasn’t really taught about taxes or mortgages or saving up for retirement,” Rojas said. “I took [AGEC235] and at the end of the class during winter break, I went to visit my professor, who is now my boss, Nicholas Kilmer. We had an informal interview, and he offered me this job.”
Rojas said she has enjoyed her time at the MEC thus far, and her favorite part of it is connecting with students in a genuine way.
“This is not transactional work, it’s not like ‘Here you go,’ and then you leave,” Rojas said. “It’s an ongoing process that we see students who first started to come here to learn about budgeting. Then you come back and have a plan within your budget on how to save up for a car.”
Another former student, David Roach, is also employed full-time at the MEC as a money education advisor specializing in financial aid and scholarships. After graduating in 2015 and working another professional job, Roach said he wanted to return to College Station.
“I was headed out from an insurance job in Irving, Texas,” Roach said. “I had someone really important to me who was here in College Station finishing up school. I wanted to get engaged and married. I started training for another job but saw [the MEC job] was available.”
Although Roach said he enjoyed his experience working in insurance and the growth it allowed him, he never found himself drawn to sales. He said his job at the MEC allows him to look at money as a means to help others, rather than the final goal.
“I always thought I would be in sales, but I’m more of a teacher than I am a salesman. That’s part of the reason I was a bad salesman,” Roach said. “I’m not driven by money, I like to talk about money and I know it is a tool that can really help a lot of people, but also cause stress in people’s lives. I got the opportunity to get in on the ground floor.”
In addition to the dedicated full-time staff, the center is also home to several student workers who help connect their peers to resources while learning about finance themselves. One student worker, economics senior Kevin Castenada, said he has enjoyed having the job experience.
“After taking [AGEC 235], they had a couple of peer advising positions. I decided to go for it and try my luck,” Castenada said. “This job has really taught me to be better at public speaking … [and] overall just having a calmer mindset to things. The environment’s great, I love my coworkers.”
Castenada said in addition to work experience, he has been able to grow his financial knowledge and wellbeing through his training.
“I fund everything on my own, so in the beginning I didn’t have any idea how to finance college. After sophomore year and taking the course I took out a lot less [in loans],” Castenada said. “During my junior year I took out a very little amount because I got some experience working at the center that expanded my financial knowledge. Now, my senior year, I was able to completely fund my final year without taking out any loans.”