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Student Success Series: Gabby Davis

Gabby sits outside of her school. She wears a black shirt.

Gabby joined Moneythink in January 2017 as a high school senior from Perspectives Leadership Academy in Chicago. She was part of the first cohort of students in Moneythink’s College Financial Coaching program. In early September, Gabby sat down with Moneythink staff to discuss her experiences with her Moneythink coach over the last few months. Her warm personality and diligent attitude were immediately apparent and amplified when you meet her in person.

The Beginning of Gabby’s Student Success Story

Ever since Gabby was little, she knew she wanted to attend college.

“I was always telling my mom, ‘I wanna be a dentist, I wanna be a dentist!’” Both her parents were college graduates. Gabby knew college would not only help her get a good job, but also was a way to “do good for [herself] and her future.” However, she also knew that paying for college was going to be a large obstacle. “It was hard finding a good college because you need money to go out of state, and I didn’t have scholarships at the time, so I knew I was going to go to a community college first no matter what.”

Gabby began looking at community colleges in Chicago and was drawn to a college because of its dentistry program. With help from her school counselors and mother, Gabby applied and was accepted. However, it was her Moneythink coach that kept her on track throughout the summer, a time when many students run into problems that can derail their college plans.

Up to 40% of students who intend to go to college never show up on the first day. The causes are often small and avoidable.

Over the summer before college, students are asked to complete a number of complicated tasks. This is a time when they have very little access to support from a high school counselor. Researchers call this phenomena “summer melt.” Unfortunately, the complications Gabby ran into are incredibly typical.

Running into Complications

Gabby is a recipient of the Star Scholarship, a scholarship offered to high-achieving Chicago Public School graduates that allows them to pursue an Associate’s Degree completely free of cost. However, Gabby had trouble receiving her scholarship on time. She worked with her Moneythink coach, Miesha, to figure out what was wrong. Miesha helped guide her through each of the steps she needed to take to get the issue resolved.

“Miesha was telling me where to go and… basically guiding me to ask my advisor questions I never thought to ask. She gave me things to think about that I needed to know in order to be successful.”

Gabby Davis

Orientation dates were passing by and classes were beginning to fill up quickly; but without her scholarship, Gabby was unable to complete any of her summer tasks.

After checking to make sure her FAFSA documents were accurate, Miesha encouraged Gabby to call the college’s financial aid office. It took five attempts to get somebody to answer the phone. Even then, the financial aid officer couldn’t provide an answer to why her scholarship was not going through.

Determined to figure out the issue, Gabby went down to the campus’ financial aid office herself. She learned that because she had taken a class at a different city college in the spring, the system still had her enrolled there. This meant she couldn’t receive her scholarship or even enroll in her classes until the issue was fixed. Because of Gabby’s Moneythink coach pushing her toward student success, Gabby was able to fix the situation.

Gabby was proactive in arranging a meeting. As a result, the school was able to correct the mistake within the week, process her scholarship, and register her for orientation.

One small glitch in the college’s system required multiple phone calls, emails, and an in-person visit to resolve — this is the kind of seemingly small detail that could result in a student never making it to the first day of college.

By nudging Gabby to stay on top of her summer tasks, her Moneythink coach was able to not only help her navigate the complicated process of receiving her financial aid, but guide her on the path to student success. Moneythink’s coaching program also gave Gabby the confidence to be proactive about finding the right campus resources that could provide support.

“We don’t know each other personally, so for [Miesha] to tell me ‘you can do it’ and believing in me… it just really gave me a feeling like ‘they believe in me, so I should believe in myself and that I know I can do it and I can get far.”

Gabby Davis

After receiving her Associate’s Degree in Dentistry, Gabby plans to transfer to University of Illinois at Chicago to pursue her Bachelor’s, and is continuing to work with her Moneythink coach to ensure she stays on track.

Be a part of the solution by making a donation, referring a partner, or becoming a corporate contributor.

Our History: How We Use Education-Technology to Inspire Change

Student holds mobile device with Moneythink app on the screen.

In the midst of the 2008 economic collapse, a group of University of Chicago undergraduates saw the opportunity to improve the economic state of their community by providing basic personal finance lessons to students from surrounding Chicago high schools. The undergrads started a club to recruit, train, and place college mentors in local high schools to teach about saving, budgeting, and the importance of financial planning for college and beyond. As students reported back incredible stories about how their newfound understanding of money was helping them in their first jobs and freshman year of college, college volunteers at other universities began using the model to found identical clubs on their campuses. By the fall of 2011, Moneythink had grown organically from a University of Chicago student organization into a 501(c)3 nonprofit volunteer movement on two dozen campuses across the country with a focus on using education-technology to help students make informed financial decisions, especially around college enrollment.

In 2012, Moneythink was awarded the White House Champions of Change award from then President Barack Obama, and raised initial seed funding from the Blackstone Foundation, Ariel Investments, the Lefkofsky Foundation, the Hughes Foundation, Nielsen, and others, to form a central headquarters that could provide strategic direction for the grassroots movement.

Since then, Moneythink has become a leading organization in the financial capability field. In 2013, collaborations with the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) and IDEO.org brought financial education out of the classroom and into the real world via our mobile application, MoneythinkMobile. This pioneering education technology application used social media to flip the typical financial behaviors of teens by “instantly gratifying delayed gratification decisions” through likes and comments.

MoneythinkMobile was the first of several education technology iterative experiments on our relentless ambition to discover and prove effective and meaningful applications of financial education. Blended learning technologies, behavioral science, and human-centered design have fueled Moneythink’s innovation engine and helped us achieve meaningful results repeatedly in the classroom, workforce, and college matriculation settings.

MoneythinkGoals: a mobile saving goals application coupled with our Youth Employment Curriculum to help students save their paychecks for the future.
Moneythink College Calculator: web-based application used in conjunction with our college persistence curriculum to help students compare and contrast their college options.

The power of human-centered design — a concept we absorbed from our friends at IDEO.org — is that you learn to listen to your beneficiaries and design your solution for what they need.

As we listened to our students from 2012 to 2016, we realized that the transition to postsecondary life — specifically getting a job and affording college — was the greatest area of stress and concern for students.

Thus, in 2016, we launched a research study to educate ourselves on the financial obstacles that first-generation, under-resourced college students face. We interviewed 93 students at 7 different university campuses across the US. They showed us the strong influence financial (in)security has on a student’s likelihood to successfully persist through college and the clear need for under-resourced youth to receive support and guidance when facing important fiscal decisions. Since then we have sought out to design a program that specifically addresses the financial stresses that surface during this influential period in a student’s financial capability development.

Moneythink’s College Financial Success program uses the most effective aspects of our programming — high-touch mentorship, technology, and curriculum — and brings it directly to the student’s fingertips. Our Moneythink Coaches utilize a web-based text-messaging platform to assist under-resourced, college-bound young adults navigate the financial decisions that occur between the beginning of their senior year of high school and the end of their freshman year of college.

We’re able to be there for students whenever and wherever they need us most: outside of the classroom at the exact moments when they’re making some of their most important life decisions.

Since launching our College Financial Success program in the fall of 2016, we have reached 1,080 students in Chicago, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area, and our coaches have sent and received over 51,000 text messages. Our students come to us with questions that range from something as simple as “how do I get to campus?” to as complicated as “how do I know if I’ve been chosen for FAFSA verification?”

More often than not, a student’s Moneythink coach is the only person they have available to discuss their college and financial issues, thus it is imperative that we are so easily accessible whenever these questions arise.

With an unprecedented model, Moneythink is able to meet students where they are to provide the most effective resources and guidance with the highest potential for impact. When students are navigating the FAFSA process, choosing between scholarship opportunities, or even just organizing required health forms to send to the school, a student’s coach is available right at their fingertips to answer questions and demystify the college process.

We walk alongside students in high school, leading up to college, and throughout their freshman year, helping to connect them to the best support and local resources available to keep them on the path to graduation.

And the journey is just beginning.

Be a part of the solution by making a donation, referring a partner, or becoming a corporate contributor.