Amazing Students

Michael Thomas Jr.

Michael Thomas Jr., a Ph.D. student in financial planning, takes a holistic approach to his academic discipline and hopes his efforts will help strengthen families and help build stronger communities.

Hometown:

Gary, Indiana

High School:

William A. Wirt High School

Degree objective:

Ph.D. in Financial Planning

Other degrees:

B.S. in Accountancy

Expected graduation:

Summer 2018

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

While at the University of Georgia, I’ve been afforded the great opportunity to co-create and a facilitate a financial literacy camp for kids (Money Dawgs) and a financial literacy camp for adults (Discovering Money Solutions). Being a student in the Department of Financial Planning, Housing and Consumer Economics (FHCE) has opened doors for me to do outreach work at places like the Athens Land Trust as well as the Clarke County Diversion Center to name a few. What’s more, I even gave a TEDxUGA talk earlier this year on financial empathy and started co-hosting a radio show — “Nothing Funny About Money” — that airs through NPR affiliate WUGA on the first Friday and Sunday of each month. Catch one of our episodes at www.NothingFunnyAboutMoney.org.

Current Employment:

Graduate assistant at the University of Georgia

Family Ties to UGA:

I don’t have any family ties to UGA.

I chose to attend UGA because…

… the financial planning program, through the FHCE department, utilizes a more holistic approach to help individuals and families work through their personal financial matters. Having served in an on-campus resource like the Aspire Clinic has reinforced this notion of a holistic approach. Sometimes a budget is not enough.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

… to walk through the UGA Trial Gardens each morning when I arrive on-campus and each evening when I leave. It reminds me that there is so much beauty in the world. And to maintain such beauty requires that we are intentional about tending to our own gardens.

When I have free time, I like…

… to spend time with my family. They are my top priority. Spending time with them brings me the type of joy that money can’t buy.

The craziest thing I've done is…

The craziest thing I’ve done to date was to force myself to get over my fear of being out in front by giving a TEDxUGA talk. The talk is entitled “Financial Empathy: Exploring the Story Beneath the Numbers.” Check it out here when you get a chance.

My favorite place to study is…

I’ll keep this one a secret. If I told you, people will know where to find me when I disappear during the middle of the day.

My favorite professor is…

One of my favorite professors is Dr. Brenda Cude. She has a reputation for challenging and stretching students, but it comes from a well-intentioned place — she cares! My first teaching assistantship was under her. I learned more about ELC and what it means to be a faculty member than I ever thought I would. She fully expected me to be immersed in the process. Although I thought it was a lot of work then, I am grateful that she felt comfortable entrusting me with responsibilities that most students do not get to see.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

This is a no-brainer. I would spend the afternoon with my sister — Tiara Thomas. Her life was tragically taken away from her two years ago. It was so devastating that I nearly quit the program. If I did, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to write this statement.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

… go try out for the shortstop position with the Chicago White Sox.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

I would be doing exactly what I am doing now — helping underserved and overlooked populations secure a firm financial footing.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?

My passion is deeply rooted in family and community. The financial-related opportunities I pursue are just a means to that end. The first question I ask myself when taking on a project is whether or not my efforts will help strengthen families and help build stronger communities. I love personal finance, but I love the positive impact it can have on people at the relational level.

After graduation, I plan to…

After graduation, I would love to work for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. I see myself as a “FinAdv.” This is someone who promotes financial literacy as well as advocates on behalf of the people I serve. The CFPB seems like a natural fit for me. If that does not pan out, I’d like to see about partnering with the local nonprofits to see how I may be able to help in the cause of alleviating the poverty in Clarke County.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

The one experience I will always remember is giving the TEDxUGA talk. I do not think I am a bad public speaker, I just hate feeling like another talking head with an expert opinion on something. The goal of the talk was to promote behavioral change by utilizing an empathetic lens in the way we deal with ourselves and those around us. I am so glad that I did it and was able to complete the process with Lauren Sloan who was there with me every step of the way!

Published Sunday,