Dan O'Connell - Why I'm Passionate About Financial Education

Aug 07, 2019

After working over 30 years in the Financial Services Industry in Manhattan I decided to make a career transition to teaching. I felt it was time to apply my skills to educating the next generation of leaders and took a position in a New York City Charter High School with students from primarily low income, underserved communities.

Given my background I quickly transitioned from teaching Math to starting a Business Program. A Financial Literacy class served as its cornerstone but I also started separate Economics and Entrepreneurship classes and a Senior Seminar course focused on finances in college. I would add that I was a very happy “customer” of NGPF’s having used the curriculum extensively in my classes!

It was in this process that I developed a deep seeded passion for Financial Literacy education. While I learned many things over the course of my two years at the High School, a few things stand out relating to financial education.

First, I found that the students genuinely were interested in the material and immediately saw how practical and necessary it is.  The following are just a small handful of anecdotes:

  • One mother told me how her son would make her sit down every night at the dinner table so he could teach her what we learned that day.
  • A student recently told me that Personal Finance is the only class for which he has kept all of the material in a binder in his bedroom and he can't wait to keep using it in college and his career.
  • Teachers would tell me how my students would sit them down to help them do their financial plans and several of them were scolded by the students for not maxing out on their 403b contributions.
  • When I asked my students at the end of the first semester teaching if they would recommend this class to their friends, they said not only would they recommend it but that it should be a pre-requisite for graduation.

Second, the more passionate I became about the need for financial education, the more attuned I became to what seemed a daily barrage of articles about the lack of financial knowledge in this country. Almost every day there is a news item about how a majority of U.S. families do not have $400 in the event of an emergency, or how recent college graduates are drowning in student loan debt, or how so many families rely on credit cards to pay their bills but end up paying more in interest expenses than the loan principal.

Finally, every adult I've talked with about these topics (without exception) has said that understanding personal finance is a critical life skill and wished they had been taught Financial Literacy in High School and would like it to be taught to their children.

My vision is a high school educational system which offers basic Financial Literacy education (career selection, budgeting, savings, investments, and retirement planning) enabling every young adult to deal more effectively with the daily financial decisions we as adults know they will have to make for the rest of their lives. I genuinely could not be happier to have the opportunity to join the team at NGPF in an advocacy role to help make this vision a reality.

About the Author

Dan O'Connell

Dan had worked for over thirty years in the financial services industry before making a career transition to teach in a New York City High School. Soon after arriving in the classroom, he developed and taught a Personal Finance class. While he enjoyed teaching the class, Dan discovered a passion for financial education after seeing how much the students loved the material and applied it in so many innovative ways - both inside and outside of the classroom. Dan’s vision is for every high school student in the country to receive a high quality financial education. He brings this passion to the NGPF team and our partners in the classroom to help make Mission: 2030 a reality. He loves to travel and explore with his wife and two children whether it’s a cross country New York to Seattle road trip with his son or adventures with his daughter to places like India, Namibia, and Mozambique.