Eldon McCabe: Helping students understand personal financial wellness

Tell us how you came to work for the Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness? 

Since attending the personal financial planning major reception in December of 2018, I was intrigued by the Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness and the incredible value it envisioned bringing the WMU and Kalamazoo community. Between studying abroad and the challenges brought on by COVID-19, I wasn’t able to get involved until 2020. 

During the Fall of 2020, I was able to discuss the center with Program Manager Todd Mora. Although he was encouraging about my possible involvement in the center, COVID-19 disrupted employment opportunities at the center at that time, so I gathered a team of fellow students willing to work outside of our normal work and class obligations. 

For the next four months, my team met with directors of similar university programs, local firms, business leaders, and our donor Todd Sanford. We learned as much as we could about how the center could create an impact. After sharing our findings with the college leadership and Mr. Sanford, a team member and I were approved for hire by the University in February 2021. Kyle Petronio is in the digital content specialist role, while I took on the role of program promotions specialist. 

Knowing that implementation of our plans would go beyond my final semester at WMU, I was provided the opportunity to remain on the team in a new role, assistant program manager, following graduation.  

What are some of the key initiatives you are working on?

I am working alongside Todd Mora to continue developing and expanding center initiatives to increase financial literacy and wellness on campus and in the neighboring communities. Additionally, we offer support to students in the personal financial planning major through a number of informational and networking opportunities.   

Actively working on a number of projects means every day is different. Much of my focus has been on launching a successful peer-to-peer financial coaching program on campus. With the support and guidance of many stakeholders, everything is coming together. This resource will be available to students to receive one-on-one attention from trained students on topics such as budgeting, developing credit, managing debt and planning for financial wellbeing after graduation.  

What most excites you about your work in the center?

What excites me most is the ability to have an impact on the wellbeing of others. Growing up, I was part of a low-income family with little understanding of financial concepts. My parents started a family young. With five children, multiple failed businesses, and limited opportunity in the geographic area, family finances were often the cause of tension.

Growing up in that setting and having plenty of financial challenges myself during my early academic career, I understand the stress that it brings. Assisting students now helps not only their current situation but hopefully their long-term financial future. There is no better feeling than supporting others and watching them succeed, and being part of that excites me. 

Tell us about your own experience in the personal financial planning program here at WMU.

My experience in the personal financial planning program was excellent. Through WMU I was able to complete the coursework required for the CFP exam, be introduced to many professionals in the field and obtain internships. 

Early on, I interned with Northwestern Mutual and learned I didn’t want to be in insurance sales and that experience helped me explore other sectors. Following that experience, I was able to obtain an internship at Rose Street Advisors in downtown Kalamazoo. There, I found great people, a great firm, and a great introduction to what really goes into financial planning.

The biggest impact on my career development came from the many professionals I was introduced to during WMU Haworth events, and the fact that my internship connections turned into mentors and experienced guides to support me during my professional journey.  

You are in a master's degree program in personal financial planning at Kansas State University. Tell us a little about your online program and what you hope to do after you earn that degree.

I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in personal financial planning online through Kansas State University’s global campus. Having completed my CFP coursework here, I am able to follow tracks in both advanced financial planning and financial therapy.

My attraction to the program is primarily due to the financial therapy education. It offers a much deeper dive into the role psychology plays in individuals' financial behavior. Not only does it provide insight into helping individuals build themselves up and adjust habits, but mitigates problems between couples or partners that are financially bound. Understanding both sides of a team and working with them to understand each other can help address the challenges that come with financial disagreements.   

I’ve been surprised by the level of interaction Kansas State University has been able to build in an online setting, and am really enjoying it. Hopefully, I can use what I learn to support the center in helping students understand their behaviors and adjust them early on, avoiding long-term struggles. 

Following my time in the center, I hope to work as a financial planner with a niche working with partners of small business or couples (young families) to overcome financial disagreements.   

Anything else you would like to add?

I am very excited to see what the Sanford Center team can accomplish. I am the advisor for the new Financial Planning Association at WMU, and I encourage anyone interested in financial planning to come be a part of it. The student leaders are doing a great job of bringing value to peers and sharing the incredible opportunities a career in financial planning offers.