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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Cottonwood students ‘Rock The Street, Wall Street’ when it comes to finances

Apr 30, 2022 09:35AM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

In the financial sector, women make up only 2.5% of hedge fund managers or 9% of mutual fund managers. It could be because by age nine in the United States, girls lose interest in math.

Those statistics and more, is why “Rock The Street, Wall Street” was launched. The financial and investment literacy program is designed to spark the interest of a diverse population of high school girls to enter careers in finance, said “Rock The Street, Wall Street” teacher Amy Johnson, who also is Grandeur Peak Advisors’ senior manager of client relations.

“As a firm, we have enjoyed having perspectives from a diverse group of employees and yet we find it very difficult to hire women; in the finance industry, women are underrepresented,” she said. “We have an initiative to reach out at the college level and engage more women and provide educational opportunities so that more people are aware of the financial industry.”

With the support of her company and with the newly recognized Salt Lake chapter of 100 Women in Finance, Johnson got the support to offer the “Rock The Street, Wall Street” program to high school students. She knew Cottonwood High offered the Academy of Finance, gained support from administration, counseling and teacher Jen Riches and together, they began offering 10 one-hour sessions to a small group of girls after school.

Senior Georgia Barrus was one of the girls who participated.

“My dad always says it’s important to know where your money is coming from, to learn how to take care of it, to understand it, but I didn’t have time in my schedule to take any in-depth financial lit classes,” she said. “I thought, this is a great resource for me, to go and get a little bit of knowledge, especially since I’ll be going to college. I realized I didn’t know much about investing in stocks or much of the financial world, and felt it was important that I learn about my finances.”

Even though Barrus plans to be an elementary school teacher, Johnson said she will need to understand the State of Utah’s pension plan and how they invest money for retirement.

Similarly, other girls in the program will need to learn about finances as one wants to start her own business, and another wants to make a profit from thrifting.

“We talked about savings, investments and budgeting. Through the program, they made connections with other females in the financial profession,” Johnson said. 

The first five weeks last fall, the students had skills training, role playing, case studies, learned basic investment and personal finance concepts. They went from learning what a stock and bond is to understanding a case study and determined the fixed costs versus variable costs and the discretionary costs in a budget.

During the course, students followed a sample portfolio of Amazon, Google, Lululemon, Airbnb and Netflix and watched what’s happened to their stocks weekly.

“We looked at the stock market so it wasn’t intimidating; they could ask questions and learn what they’re looking at. I hope they will continue to have the curiosity to ask questions and the belief that they are capable of understanding and participating. I think most women discount themselves mentally from being eligible as understanding investing and that’s just false. There are plenty of professional working women who make budget financial related decisions all the time about how they spend their time, where they invest their earnings and savings, they have to pick their 401K and their company plan. Even in your own personal life, you should invest and participate. Women save a lot of money, but they don’t invest it,” she said.

Johnson related that to the teens’ friendships, activities and homework.

“In high school, you’re making economic decisions all the time about where you spend your energy and how you divide up your time to do your homework and all your activities. Those skills are the same that come into play whether should I buy stock in Amazon or Tesla,” she said.

After those five weeks of hands-on learning, the group had an all-day onsite visit to Grandeur Peak Advisors, a micro to mid-cap global equities investment firm. After a tour, the students met with the team and asked questions like, “How does a trade get from one company to another?” and “What does buying power mean?” They met with female professionals and learned their stories, Johnson said.

Barrus said it was there that she began to feel more comfortable in understanding the financial world.

“In the fall, I was hesitant because I felt like I didn’t know as much as the others here. But then I just stared learning to ask questions. When we visited Amy’s work, it was such a fun day to learn what they do and until then, I’ve honestly never thought that I would go into career within financial layers, but now I feel I could definitely have a good start,” she said.

During the five weeks this spring, the students had mentoring sessions and learned how to prepare resumes, create LinkedIn profiles and practiced interview skills and pitches.

Riches gave an example of her personal pitch, then encouraged students to “own your greatness. It’s hard not to feel cocky, but you need to let your confidence shine through.”

Riches said that “Rock The Street, Wall Street” allowed students to become fully invested in their personal growth and in understanding the financial world.

“They’ve learned how to build their resume, invest in themselves, learn about finances and advocate for themselves. It’s been fun to see the growth and interact in a small group; we’re reaching a different group of people than we do in a traditional class,” she said.

Barrus said that because of this program, she is now able to have a conversation about the stock market and has started a budget for herself for college.

“I know how to read a stock; I can tell what’s happening with it and what to expect. I’m able to talk to my dad about stocks and investing,” she said. “After doing a budget assignment, I’m not just looking as a teenager does with money for fast food, clothes and not really planning ahead or thinking about a house budget, with rent, bills and phone bills. That hadn’t even crossed my mind before, but with my mom, I’ve created a budget to save up for my dorm, meal plans, and other things I’m realizing I’ll need. What I know will really stick with me is learning to advocate for myself. Teachers don’t get paid as much as they should, and I will need to use my voice and skills I’ve learned here.”