Investing in Financial Literacy

by Bianca Flowers

Teaching students to use “fake money” that imitate real life scenarios of the stock market is what inspired Finance professor, Elisabeth Oltheten to spearhead a program that has captured the attention of students and teachers worldwide.

The University of Illinois Securities and Exchange Simulation, widely known as UISES, is an online course designed to help high school teachers incorporate stock market exchanges into their curriculum. Educating students about practical investment strategies in a risk free environment was a creative way to get students involved in market trading.

High schools in the C-U area were among the first to have access to the program. The course has been integrated in basic economic classes.

“We did an exercise where the students could buy and trade stock. It was an easy and efficient way to get them more involved in business and how the stock market functions,” said Oltheten.

UISES is one of several programs that the Department of Finance that promotes financial literacy to enhance youths’ knowledge about monitoring market trends.

According to Kevin Waspi, a finance instructor that joined forces with Oltheten in 1997; the program became a cornerstone in simplifying how investments are being taught.

“It was a natural growth process to see how this developed in a high school environment. We wanted to bring that same experience into college settings.”

Finance 300 “Financial Markets” and Finance 361 “Investments” are classes in the College of Business where UISES is a requirement. Students are challenged to manage a $1 million portfolio with a hypothetical client while using an online brokerage account to buy and sell securities.

“Once you see your portfolio go up and down in value, you are driven to want to know more,” said Oltheten.

Oltheten added that “things that were just pages on the internet start to have more meaning”.

The Champaign Rotary Club is apart of an international business service that has partnered with the University to promote financial literacy at the high school level.

“When Elisabeth and I approached Rotary, they were aware of the program and thought it was a great opportunity to bring more Rotary involvement in the high schools; this was a way to publicize and populate it,” said Waspi.

Towards the end of each semester the Club sponsors prizes that are awarded to high schools students each semester who achieve certain benchmarks for generating the highest rates of return.

Waspi and Oltheten are working to continue expanding the program. Both agree that empowering students to make smart and sound financial decisions for their futures’ is the most rewarding.