2020 CashCourse Financial Educator of the Year: Amanda Gasper

Amanda Gasper Headshot

We are proud to announce
Amanda Gasper as the recipient of the 2020 CashCourse Financial Educator of the Year Award. Currently serving as the coordinator of the It Make$ Cents Money Management Center at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Gasper manages financial peer mentors that are central to the Center's mission. Gasper has cultivated partnerships with a number of departments across campus, and has worked with other schools to coach them in the creating of financial education programming. Read on for our interview with Gasper.

CC: Tell us about yourself and how you got started in this field. 

AG: My background is in psychology, business and sales. I feel like I fell upon this type of work because of what I can offer back to people. I have gone full circle in the area of financial wellness because my past life was nothing close to financial awareness or financial stabilityI come from a low-income family. I did not even realize I was poor until high school, when I had a driver’s license and visited my friends. Their houses were so different, and they lived way out of the city. It was eye opening to see how other people lived and I became very conscious of that. Then I got to college and made every mistake possible. It was the first time I was granted the opportunity to “have things” and many things via credit cards. For the first time I felt like I could have what others had and afford to dress (name brand and all) the way I wanted. I was living way out of my financial boundaries and was living a life that was not my own. Going through that experience and coming through it, I feel like I have a lot to offer students on what is importantI can draw from my own experiences to help them. I had to hit some hard lows, to figure some of that out, especially how materialism is oversold to all of us in our society. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to help others build healthy financial habits and find value in the little things, the meaningful things in life.  

CC: Tell me about the It Make$ Cents Money Management Center.  

AG: It is a peer-to-peer student program and our financial peer-mentors are at the fore-front of our outreach and mission. They do all the marketing, outreach, and consultations. They are passionate about knocking down the stigma of money and educating their peers. I feel our program is very effective because of their leadership and genuine approach. It hits home to other students to witness their peers talking about money with knowledge and making good decisionsHearing that from someone your own age is so important. 

Our program wouldn’t be where it is today without our valuable campus partners and campus collaborations. A lot of the work and outreach we have done has truly flourished with their support. I want to give a special call out to the Office of Multicultural Student Support Services and Student Support Services. They have been huge ambassadors of financial literacy on our campus and have utilized our consultations and programing in their curriculum. We continue to be able to reach students where they are at via are partners in Admissions, International Education, Career Services, Campus Activities Board, Student Life, UW Dining, UW Credit Union, and colleagues within the CBA department.  Another very special partner for us, which has helped us redefined how we learn about finances, has been our UWL Department of Theatre Arts. Mary Leonard and her student staff complied and co-created our copyrighted production of – Money Monologues. Without her assistance and sharing the talents of her students, this would never have been possible.  

A few other things that continue to stand out in what we do has been our financial literacy band- The Loose Change. An all student band that does money-themed songs. One of our most recent initiatives, with the support of Rick Stewart in UWL’s School of Educationis helping our student teachers at UW Lacrosse. Wisconsin mandates financial literacy to be taught in K-12, so we try to help our future teachers do that work better. We have really taken these people under our wing to help them meet this requirement.  Anywhere we can meet students- we do. 

CC: Can you share a favorite memory of working with students on personal finance? 

AG: Every day I feel so blessed to do what I do. Managing the students that I have is so meaningful. I am training them to meet people where they are at and help shepherd and guide them in love. We might not know someone, but everyone has their own struggles and that struggle is real for them. We really want our served community to feel like we are walking alongside them; processing finances and life togetherI am a Christian and my values have shaped this approach of being a good shepherd and stewardIt has been really rewarding to see our student mentors build that rapport and build relationship with their peers. For me personally, it is so rewarding to see those connections develop.  

Amanda Gasper pic (1)

CC: Tell me more about your messaging on living within one’s means.  

AG: When it comes to college life we emphasize being mindful of what you have and only borrowing what you need. Financial responsibility is everyone’s responsibility. 

Our center also works to remove the stigma from resources like the campus food pantry. It is open for everyone on campus – faculty, staff, and students. We provide recipes and meals they could make from items in the food pantry. We also highlight our campus clothing closet. Take what you need and know that this resource is here. If you have a need, take advantage of it. You are paying school fees for these resources, be sure to attend campus events! Get your full college experience and your money’s worth.

We call different places in La Crosse that are popular with students and try to get them to participate in student discount cards. Then we promote these discounts to the students. Our approach is about helping students be mindful of where they spend their time and money. 

CC: What advice do you have for other colleges or universities doing this type of work? 

AG: I have had the opportunity to coach several other schools doing this work. I have had people call me across the country and we talk about financial education. Everything is doable and the sky is limitless. It is about how much you want to dive in and help. Students are willing and ready. Just go for it and something will bloom. 

I think young people are eager to hear these messages and want to know that they are on the right path. It is a lot of unknowing and not having open conversations with their parents. If you do not talk about money, you do not know about money. If anyone can open that conversation, that is the best way to get started. 

CC: What have you been most proud of from your work in student financial education? 

AG: I am most proud of the connections that I have made both professionally and personally. Being a resource on campus has been so gratifying. Everything our program has done, whatever we have learned – we are happy to share with other campuses. We want to add to the ripple effect of learningBeing able to grow this kind of work and share that with others is what makes us proud. 

CC: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

AG: I want to give credit where credit is due. Our program hasn’t been successful all on its own. It took a special woman’s vision and overwhelming love for people that incubated and created IMC!. Louise Janke, UWL Director of Financial Aid, is that special person who continues to find ways to better not only students’ lives, but anyone that she comes across. I also truly believe that the good Lord has His hand in this work. Money is very personal and puts people in a vulnerable spot. Our purpose of helping others be good stewards of their resources is important. 

Lastly, we wouldn’t have gotten this far if it wasn’t for the support of our administration. That is an ongoing challenge for many universities who want to do this kind of work, is that they do not have administration support. I want to commend our university’s leadership because they have poured support into providing this resource for our students.