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White House Campus Champion Teaches Young Americans Financial Literacy, Entrepreneurship

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Ted Gonder, honored by the White House as a Champion of Change, helps young Chicagoans learn financial literacy.

Ted Gonder’s passion and enthusiasm was clear from the first moment I contacted him. Recently, when I emailed the University of Chicago student to request an interview, he replied less than an hour later: “Can you chat this afternoon over Skype? I'm currently in South America but will make time to chat with you. I'll be free starting in about 2 hours.”

A senior at the University of Chicago, Gonder has already worked with a dozen startups, spoken at the United Nations, the New York Stock Exchange, and the U.S. Senate Building, and helped lead multiple student movements.

But his most recent initiative is the award-winning Moneythink, for which Gonder was recently recognized as one of five White House Campus Champions of Change during a ceremony with President Obama. The program teaches young Americans about financial literacy through a unique mentorship arrangement.

(Previously: White House Recognizes Students for Feeding the Homeless—One Meal Swipe at a Time)

Over a shaky Skype connection across international borders, Gonder described how his parents—along with his high school experiences and his motivation to “abandon mediocrity”—put him where he is now.

A math tutor, a leadership conference, and one documentary later, Gonder had begun his first student-led activism program. The documentary was Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and it was the former vice president’s “campaign to make the issue of global warming a recognized problem worldwide” that inspired Gonder to take action.

So Gonder launched Project Cool Down, a nonprofit that created climate change awareness programs at high schools across California. And his experiences at a leadership conference encouraged him to, as he says, “turn the club into a movement.”

Then a mentor suggested to Gonder that he get in contact with Al Gore and ask for his support. During his junior year, the club spread to six other high schools. One short year later, Gonder’s idea-turned-movement was boasting Toyota as a corporate sponsor and Al Gore’s representative was contacting Gonder to be student advisor for Gore’s personal movement at more than 80 high schools nationwide.

But it was an economics class during his senior year of high school that introduced Gonder to his next passion—finance and economics. He went to college and quickly joined an investment banking club, becoming friends with some fellow students who were already thinking of creating “an initiative to teach investing workshops in Chicago.”

That initiative has become Moneythink, credited by the Obama administration’s effort as “helping our country out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.”

In the early stages of the initiative, fellow University of Chicago students and members of this new initiative cold called teachers, taught basic finance workshops, and instructed students on why or why not to use services such as payday loans and cash advances.

But Moneythink is not a program designed to simply tell young Americans and college students what to do with their money—it is a mentorship program, too.

“We try to build trust and friendships between the students and the mentors,” Gonder said. “It is necessary for our program to be successful.”

During school vacations, Gonder realized that his friends back home in California were interested in his new project.

Now, he’s helped Moneythink expanded to more than 15 chapters across the country and the group is looking to grow even further. They plan to open a full-time office space in June. As successful as the initiative has been, it’s hard to quantify in numbers.

“It is difficult to measure results in the education field in such a short period of time,” Gonder said, but adding that the program’s testimonials tell it all.

For instance, Gonder boasted, “one of our students negotiated a basketball scholarship for himself using the tools we taught him.”

If you would like to start a chapter at your school or work with Moneythink, visit the Moneythink website.

Leor Reef is a journalism intern with Campus Progress.

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