College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Rotary Challenge: Promoting Financial Literacy Through Friendly Competition


The Rotary Challenge is a program making small steps toward "stamping out financial ignorance all over the world." At least that's the way Elisabeth Oltheten, assistant professor of finance, describes her work with the program and her colleague, Kevin Waspi, a lecturer in finance, is apt to agree. Both Oltheten and Waspi have been a part of the Challenge program from its inception. Using a stock trading simulation software program created at the College of Business and a cadre of enthusiastic volunteers, the Rotary Challenge has developed into a competition that helps high school students gain practical experience with money management. The Rotary Challenge combines expertise in the Department of Finance and the organizational structure of the Champaign Rotary Club to promote financial literacy among high school students.

Students participating in the Challenge use the web-based University of Illinois Securities Exchange Simulation (UISES) software to manage a $1,000,000 portfolio.. UISES allows students to  buy and sell equities, and closed-end and exchange-traded funds. Each student is set up with an online UISES account and competes to generate the highest rate of return individually, as well as to contribute to the average rate of return for his class and for his school. . At the end of the semester , winning students, teachers, and schools are honored in a regular Rotary Meeting and awarded prizes donated by Rotary members.

"Rotary International is dedicated to education" explains Kevin Waspi, who uses UISES in his financial markets, investment, and managed portfolio classes.  Although the Rotary Challenge itself began in the fall of 2004, it is an outgrowth of the High School Outreach program established in 1996 by the Finance Club Faculty Advisors Oltheten and Assistant Professor of Finance Virginia France. The undergraduates, called market mentors, visit participating high schools and help the students with their UISES investments. Every semester the Market Mentors run a mock trading session; the high school students buy and sell shares as brokers on the floor of the exchange while the university students act as specialist, chalk up bids and asks, and maintain fair and orderly markets. With the mock trading sessions the students learn that the stock prices do more than determine who wins the Rotary Challenge, they actually come from the interaction of buyers and sellers in the market. The market mentors gain valuable experience, serve as role models, and are the extra boost the high school students need to excel in the friendly competition.

Four high schools participated in the Challenge during the 2004-05 academic year: Champaign Central, Centennial, St. Thomas More, and Mahomet-Seymour. Judah Christian in Champaign and Urbana High will join the competition  next year. Oltheten and Waspi say that, ultimately, the Challenge is not about helping the students make money. Rather, it is about showing students how to manage their money. The Challenge lets students "see some of the benefits of what it means when you save more than you spend and put that money in a place where it's safe and helps others achieve their goals," says Waspi.

An outgrowth of the relationship with the Champaign Rotary, the program leverages the professional members of the local Rotary Club. In the Business Mentors program, volunteers from local business who are willing to be guest speakers in high schools indicate their interest to Waspi and Oltheten, who maintain a list that teachers use to identify speakers, Mentors take abstract financial and business concepts and put apply those concepts in a practical way in the classroom.

The Rotary Challenge helps take the mystery out of money management and investment, giving students the foundation to understand and manage their personal finances.



--Amber Baker
July 2005


UIUC College of Business