Economics professor is Mentor of the Month, with a nod from the Milwaukee Bucks

Mentor of the Month.

If you caught the Bucks game on Jan. 6 (a disappointing 138-109 loss to the Charlotte Hornets), you might have seen a familiar face flash on the scoreboard in the third quarter.

During the game, UWM economics professor Rebecca Neumann was honored as the Mentor of the Month, a recognition powered by Milwaukee Bucks player Bobby Portis and Mentor Greater Milwaukee The award is granted to people who have made a difference in the community by lending their time and talents in service of young people.

Neumann is a long-time volunteer with SecureFutures, an organization that promotes financial literacy among Milwaukee youth and students across Wisconsin. She has served as the organization’s board chair and sits on its advisory council.

Neumann is also a mentor with SecureFutures’ Money Coach program, which works with individual, underserved teens to teach them to manage their money by paying them money to manage.

“Some of these students have no money, and we’re talking to them about financial literacy,” Neumann explained. “Students in the Money Coach program actually get money for completing the program pieces. Writing down a budget, attending the mentoring sessions – they get cash for that paid into a bank account. … The goal is to get them started and really budgeting so that they’re starting to save and thinking about where spending occurs.”

While she loves her volunteer work, the recognition for it was a surprise. When Neumann got the email telling her she’d been nominated and chosen for the Mentor of the Month, she thought it was spam.

“But I read it a couple of times and thought, I think this is actually real,” she laughed.

Neumann, her family, representatives from Secure Futures, and a few of Neumann’s mentees were invited to attend the Jan. 6 Bucks game and sit courtside before the game as the Bucks warmed up. As they watched the drills, none other than Bobby Portis approached the group and asked which one was his Mentor of the Month.

“He gave me a handshake and a big hug, and then took a bunch of pictures with us. I got this jersey that says ‘Mentor’ with his number on it, and he signed that,” Neumann said. “He’s a very nice guy and just seems so sweet. (For him) this is all about mentoring and all about the kids.”

In fact, Portis was the keynote speaker at the Mentor Greater Milwaukee symposium on Jan. 18, where he shared stories about the mentors impacted his life.

As the game began, Neumann and her group took their seats in the stands to enjoy some basketball. She returned to the court during the third quarter where she accepted her award. Almost immediately, she said, she began getting emails from students and alumni who had seen her picture on the scoreboard’s enormous screen.

While it was exciting to be honored on the floor of the Fiserv Forum in front of thousands of Bucks fans, Neumann says that volunteering and mentorship are their own rewards.

“Volunteering is huge for me. I do a lot of it,” she added. “(I like) the connection with students and folks I wouldn’t otherwise necessarily connect with.”

Volunteering has also made her a better college professor. “Having seen the progression of students and understanding more about what they are facing and where they’re coming from has given me a lot more insight and ability to relate to them in a more empathetic way,” Neumann said. Working with students in Milwaukee Public Schools has given her a better idea of the challenges that young people face in navigating school and finances.

Neumann also just finds satisfaction in giving back. Everyone can find something to love about volunteering, she added. Though she’d like to see more mentors working at Secure Futures, “I think, most importantly, find something that you like to do, and find new ways to do it,” she advised.

If you do it well enough, you may just find yourself on the scoreboard screen at the Fiserv Forum.

By Sarah Vickery, College of Letters & Science