Award-winning student ideas merge financial and community health

UWM senior Jared Smith’s ideas to combine personal finance with community-based services have earned him $1,000 and a finalist spot in the FOCUSS national competition taking place at the end of April in Madison, Wisconsin.

Jared Smith holds up a check.
David Pate, associate professor of social work, stands with UWM senior Jared Smith, winner of the UWM round of the FOCUSS Idea Competition. (Photo courtesy of David Pate)

UW-Milwaukee hosted round one of the annual FOCUSS competition in late March, which was coordinated by David Pate, associate professor of social work in the Helen Bader School of Social Welfare. The competition is directed by Floyd Rose, president of Wisconsin Supplier Development and 100 Black Men of Madison. The 2018 FOCUSS contest tasked participating undergraduate students to create and present plans for a community credit union serving a multiracial, multicultural, multigenerational clientele. Annually, the FOCUSS Competition challenges students to propose solutions to a specific challenge affecting credit unions and their membership.

Several students presented plans to a panel of guest judges, but it was Smith’s innovative, responsive pitch for the Milwaukee Neighborhood Credit Union that won the day with such features as:

  • A college ambassador program to educate high school students and their families about credit unions and college preparation;
  • Specialists trained to assist credit union members experiencing intimate partner violence;
  • A citizens’ collaborative banking program that would address the needs of senior citizens and individuals with disabilities.

Smith is the only UWM student advancing to the final round of the FOCUSS competition, to be held on Thursday, April 26. Four other UWM students placed in the regional competition last month:

  • Justin Finner, second place,
  • Amber Joshway, third place
  • Rebecca Essling, fourth place
  • Maombi Novati, fifth place.

CUNA Mutual and FOCUSS sponsor the annual competition.

“We are grateful that students were able to engage in an activity that promoted social justice and community involvement,” Pate said.

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