Pomona College Magazine
Volume 45, No. 1
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Pomona College Magazine is published three times a year by Pomona College
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Seniors / Personal Finance
Reality Check

By Laura Tiffany

The budget exercise always shakes up the seniors who pack Carl Martellino’s popular personal finance seminars. Students research likely starting salaries, then begin subtracting: taxes, rent, food, insurance, utilities. Trade-offs enter the picture: No movies out—but a Netflix subscription might be doable. One restaurant meal every other week—but only if they brown bag it every day.

“It really opened my eyes to a lot of costs that, as college students, we don’t really think about—even utilities and things like that,” says Kari Mah ’08.

Over the course of the four-part, noncredit seminar, Martellino, director of the Career Development Office, aims to ease the pocketbook shock of post-college life and entry-level salaries. Students discover the differences between HMOs and PPOs, IRAs and 401(k)s, and learn why they will need much more than a million bucks by the time they retire.

“There are surprises throughout,” says Martellino. “For some, it’s not realizing how much it really takes to save for retirement or how compounding can really work. For others, it’s not knowing what a stock or a mutual fund is.”

Danielle Bernstein ’08 signed up for the seminar because “there was a lot I didn’t know about dealing with realworld stuff, like taxes and savings and renting an apartment,” she says. “My parents have taken care of a lot of stuff for me, and I want to feel competent when I graduate, to be able to do that stuff on my own.”

It was a group of students with like concerns who thought up the class, approaching the Economics Department to request a financial management course. Professors Michael Steinberger and Glenn Hueckel and Lyubov Tovbina ’06 began putting together the seminar. They brought Martellino into the fold, recalling that he had an extensive background in financial management and already offered financial seminars.

The original seminar was so popular, it had to be limited to seniors. And after just one e-mail notification last year, 125 seniors signed up. Held on four consecutive Tuesdays, each evening runs two hours, followed by a dinner break and a post-meal presentation by guests such as local financial planners Don Gould ’79 and John Graham ’86.

Seminars preparing students for the “real world” have grown in popularity nationwide in recent years. “By the time students are ready to leave college, there are [real-world tasks] they haven’t done yet,” explains John Gardner, founder of the National Resource Center for First- Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina.

“If you don’t provide this for seniors, they graduate and then they get into trouble and wonder: Why didn’t my college help me with this?” says Gardner. Fortunately for Pomona, Martellino was ahead of the curve.

After graduating from UCLA, Martellino began working at American Express and took all but one of the classes required to receive a Certified Financial Planner designation. He later earned his stockbroker, real estate sales and insurance licenses. When he left the financial planning field to work for UCLA’s Career Center, Martellino started giving talks on the subject to campus groups and, eventually, at other SoCal colleges. Martellino began working at Pomona in 1999, bringing the workshop with him.

He opens each session to questions about the previous week’s assignments, but also takes the time to read and comment on homework. “It’s like personal financial planning because for one student, $40,000 may be just like near starvation. For another, they’re saving $500, $600 a month,” says Martellino. “So it varies dramatically and that’s been interesting to watch.”

Martellino notes that after students completed their budget in last February’s seminars, conclusions included having to live paycheck to paycheck, finding out that rent might take 75 percent of a budget, and joking (though not entirely) about needing loans to survive.

“It definitely makes you confront these issues early on,” says Thomas Sprankling ’08. “Here at Pomona, we’ve got dining halls, we’ve got dorms—we have all these facilities and resources we can draw upon. We still have family and I know alumni can use the CDO, but really, you lose a lot of that bubble protection as soon as you leave.”

Some students, says Steinberger, have even changed career paths based on what they learn in the series, which he says is both good and bad. “I’m happy that a student didn’t end up in massive credit card debt and getting behind. In another way, though, I hope that students are thinking about how they’re going to follow their passions. And if that means having a roommate for a couple of years and driving an older car, I hope that they follow their passions.”

Popping bubbles—whether it’s the bubble of protection living at Pomona provides or the dream that one’s chosen career will offer a livable entry-level salary—isn’t the goal of the seminar series. Rather, it’s about gently letting students know how to navigate finances in the real world, whether they’re entering a high-paying field, taking a fellowship or enrolling in grad school.

“The way I look at the seminar series is this is hopefully going to change students’ lives in the sense of what they can pick for careers,” says Martellino. “And [that they] understand that they may not make as much in one career area as they would in another career area, but if they understand the financial basics and concepts to get to their main goals—retirement, saving for a house, whatever it is that they want—that salaries can be at different levels and they can still get to those goals.”

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