Apr 07, 2023

NGPF Podcast: Nikita Agrawal, Founder of FinPro World, on Teaching Financial Literacy through Coding

Nikita Agrawal combined her love of coding with her passion for financial literacy to create a unique curriculum for teens to learn about computer programming and personal finance simultaneously. Listen to this podcast to learn more about how she started her program, FinPro World. 


[00:00:00] Introduction

Tim Ranzetta: Hey, it's me, Tim Ranzetta, co-founder of Next Gen Personal Finance. Thank you for tuning in to this NGPF podcast. Today on the show, Yanely is joined by Nikita Agrawal, a student at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, which also happens to be the alma mater of former First Lady Michelle Obama. Nikita saw high interest among her peers when it came to computer science many of them were excited to learn how to code. However, she didn't see that same spark in her financial classes, and that's when the light bulb went off. She decided to use code to help students apply financial lessons in a special program called FinPro World. Nikita shares with us her experience starting the program in Chicago, and later expanding it to serve a global audience. Without further ado, Yanely and Nikita Agrawal.

Yanely Espinal: We're gonna go ahead and officially kick this off. I am so, so excited to warmly welcome you to the podcast, Nikita. Go ahead and introduce yourself and let us know a little bit about what you're working on. 

[00:01:06] Nikita's Background

Nikita Agrawal: Hello everyone. Thank you so much for joining. My name is Nikita. I'm 17 years old. I am a high school junior at Whitney Young High School in Chicago. You may have heard of Whitney Young, notably Michelle Obama went there. In school I'm taking AP Economics, Macro and Micro, and also AP Statistics. So I am familiar with financial literacy and how important it is to our community. Thank you so much for having me. 

Yanely Espinal: This is amazing. First of all, the fact that you're already so involved in taking initiative around your own financial education is incredible. You're taking quite an impressive load of classes, which I know I remember being a little stressful, but also fun.

Yanely Espinal: Being a junior right now, oftentimes a lot of stress, right? You're thinking about all of the decisions that you have to make that are gonna kind of impact you within the next kind of short term, next two to three years. So tell us a little bit about what are some of those things that you're thinking about and how that played a role in motivating you to kind of think about financial literacy in a creative way.

Nikita Agrawal: Yeah, definitely. You know, as you mentioned juniors, we start thinking about college and where we wanna go, and balancing out, our passion and thinking about the financial costs that come with it. So it is very important to understand debt for example, and interest and how that can accumulate over time.

Nikita Agrawal: And I think a lot of people are a bit in the dark about that or are a bit uncomfortable when they speak about. And so what motivated me to create a financial literacy initiative, FinPro World, was that I have grown up seeing my single working mother navigate through her financial struggles. And I've seen herself teach financial concepts, learn them to on her own. And so I was always aware of the importance of financial literacy. 

Nikita Agrawal: And I've also noticed that we lack financial literacy in schools and there is a financial literacy gap in our nation. So the idea of FinPro World came to me as my mother when once she asked for my opinion when refinancing our home. And she was comparing different mortgage options, but she wasn't finding comparison tools online that met her needs. And so when she asked for my opinion, I was able to code out in Python a programming language. I was able to code out a comparison and make it customizable for her needs. And so this triggered me the idea of combining financial literacy with computer programming into a powerful platform so that students can learn through hands-on.

Nikita Agrawal: And also in doing so through this interdisciplinary approach, students can come out by learning two skills, finance and computer programming, and are able to better retain and apply the knowledge that they gain. 

Yanely Espinal: Well, first of all, that's amazing because I think that two of the most sought after skills nowadays are definitely financial skills and computer skills.

Yanely Espinal: So the fact that you kind of combine those two things, like maybe while recognizing, but maybe even without thinking of how critical those two things are and how sought after they are, especially for adults. Caus I feel like as a teenager, You just sort of are naturally inclined to computers and you know, to tech, to your phone, to your iPad.

Yanely Espinal: But as you get older and you begin to go into the workforce, you get your first job. You know, everything's not just social media. You really have to be computer literate in a lot of ways beyond just the fun stuff that technology can offer. So the fact that you found a passion for yourself within coding, and then we're able to kind of think about how to bridge that gap between what you're learning in school and money, which.

Yanely Espinal: You saw at home is, is amazing. You're clearly like connecting all of these dots. And I'm curious just like what FInPro world kind of became like, and it become like an afterschool club where you kind of decided, Hey, I'm gonna get together with some of my fellow students and my friends and my peers, and we're gonna do this like after school in an empty classroom. Was it like during school, during lunch and mornings, and then sort of how did it grow from like the early start to like where you have it now? 

[00:05:04] How FinPro World Started Off

Nikita Agrawal: Yeah, definitely. So there are a variety of financial topics out there. We chose to focus on a few, and so we developed a week long, hour sessions and content for that. And so different topics that we thought were interesting and we created the Google Slides and the content and the activities for that. And it just became, you know, a larger organization because we realized that. It's important for kids all around the world to have access to this education. And so through our we started originally at my high school as a small club there where we taught some of the kids there.

Nikita Agrawal: But through our partnerships with Chicago Public Schools, which is one of the largest school districts in the nation, we have expanded to other schools in Chicago. And later through our partnership with Schoolhouse World, we've expanded globally to 17 other. And so it just grew more and more as we were seeing the feedback that we received from the students and how happy they were that they had registered for FinPro World sessions and that they were able to get something out of it.

Nikita Agrawal: They were able to see the value from that. And so that's what motivated us to, you know, keep going. And so we have evolved from a small club at a high school to now we are a student led 501c3 nonprofit organization. And so we have established these different strategic partnerships. We keep speaking, trying to get FinPro World out there so that all over, you know, students can learn and recognize the importance of financial literacy and how, you know, adding that computer programming ask to to it is really important.

Yanely Espinal: Definitely important. Now I'm curious just a little bit more of like the personal story from you, because I find that like a lot of students might be like curious about coding and computer science, but they might not necessarily go all the way and it clearly sounds like you have this passion for computer science because you know, the story earlier about how you like coded a whole program for your mom is amazing and that's definitely not, I don't think like a very typical type of story.

Yanely Espinal: So tell us How did that come about? Like, were you coding from a very young age? Like how did you get involved in computer science? 

[00:07:21] Getting Involved with Coding

Nikita Agrawal: Yeah, so I started learning about coding in middle school. I learned through Scratch, which I'm not sure how many are familiar with, but it's a bit simpler than, you know, actual coding. And so that just helped break the ice and get over that initial hurdle and be more comfortable with it. And so started in scratch, but then I started to move on later in middle school to Python programming. And so I coded different popular games such as lights out, different shopping cart applications, just taking on some small projects and just trying to see, you know, I have this idea, let's try to implement it, and what can we do and how, how do we code that looking things up, saying, I wanna do this. What is the code for that? And learning that. 

Nikita Agrawal: But later when I went into high school, I was able to directly take AP Computer Science A as a freshman. It was something a bit uncommon at my school and I had established that history that, you know, I do have some coding experience and I think that's what helped me be able to succeed in that class. And I also observed that several of my classmates were intimidated by advanced mathematics and programming courses, which stemmed from them not having a strong foundation in their middle school. So that's why, you know, as you mentioned, computer programming is one of the most sought after jobs, but it's important to be comfortable with it.

Nikita Agrawal: And I think that's what FinPro World, we wanna break the ice and make sure that these students are able to be comfortable with financial literacy and computer programming. Because nowadays, you know, much of it is getting merged into one. You have like digital finance, banking, you know, blockchain is recently is becoming really popular and so by breaking the ice, I think that's really helpful that I had at the beginning.

Yanely Espinal: Well, you're absolutely right. There's like this constant, connection between money and technology now. Like there it is almost like we cannot separate it anymore. You know, like I remember when I was little, I would see my parents using cash to buy stuff all the time. And to me, like the concept of money in my head was like dollar paper, dollar bills and coins, quarters, nickels, dimes, pennies.

Yanely Espinal: One of the things that you mentioned, and I think is still true no matter where you kind of look in the world, is that there's really a lack of financial education inside the traditional public school system. And so I'm curious what you felt like or what made you feel like, you know what, bringing computer science and financial literacy together will be more effective, right? And so what made you feel like that's gonna be more useful for students? More effective and kind of get better results than past effort.

[00:10:01] Bridging Financial Literacy and Computer Science 

Nikita Agrawal: Yeah, so this is a bit different than the traditional financial literacy initiative and efforts because FinPro World makes it more real through hands-on computer programming. Students can easily see for themselves how the formulas and concepts work, and they can apply their knowledge to specific examples at their respective homes. So an example is where, you know, the financial concept of simple interest is explained first, and then students use Python program. To program a function which calculates the simple interest amount, and students can then change the interest rate or the time and run their code again to see how the simple interest amount changes.

Nikita Agrawal: And I think it's a bit different than traditional initiatives where, you know, a formula is presented and it's like this works, and students are like, okay, I'll take your word for it. But in terms of Python programming, they can change the values and be like, oh, I inputted this value and I got this. But then I changed the time, and instead of taking out a loan for three years, I took it out for five years, and now I have to pay more.

Nikita Agrawal: And so being able to connect it better helps them retain it. And so in each of our sessions, students have interactive discussions. They're not afraid to ask questions, and they can share their graphs and code with the other students, you know, even if it's not fully completed. And each session tackles a new financial concept and continues to build on the programming. And so I think that is why FinPro World is very effective and we've seen tremendous positive testimonials and feedback from our students.

Yanely Espinal: So about how much time does it take for the students to work through something? Would that be like an hour session? Would that be 30 minute session? About how much time do the students take to complete it? 

[00:11:44] How FinPro World Modules Work

Nikita Agrawal: It's about an hour long. So we have made some modifications through the initial testing. Initially, the finance and computer programming were 30 minutes each to create that one hour.

Nikita Agrawal: However, now we have decided to focus more on the programming part because, you know, the finance part, it's like, here's what it is, this is why it's important. Here's the formula for it. This is an example, and I, I found through our feedback and testimonials that students really wanna focus more on the programming part, and they find that that's really new and they love that more. And so we've made those modifications to accommodate for, you know, their learning and what they would, they feel they would get most out of the program. 

Yanely Espinal: Yeah, I mean I imagine that once they have, because you provide the skeleton code and so I, you kind of scaffolded it up for them to actually build up to where they can do it themselves.

Nikita Agrawal: Yeah, yeah, exactly. That's exactly right. I was really happy to hear that feedback from our students and that was, you know, the reason why FinPro World is different than these other programs out there. And so to hear that they really wanna focus on that programming part and that they're getting a lot out of that programming part. And so we should sort of make those modifications to help encourage that, you know, that was really exciting. 

Yanely Espinal: Do the students then need to come into the program with a certain level of prior knowledge around coding skills and how do you assess that? And if they don't, you know, have any prior knowledge to coding, can they, can they still get started with the Fin Pro world program? 

Nikita Agrawal: Yeah, there's no prior knowledge required. The financial concepts, while they do change, the programming sort of gets built more and more. And so at the beginning we do a brief, you know, rundown that how to set up Python, how to log into this database, this website that is online and free to use. And then we go into, you know, some of the different syntaxes of Python that there are, different ways to represent numbers, different ways to represent variables.

Nikita Agrawal: Here's how you can print out a phrase, here's how you can print out a number. So different things like that. And then we get into, you know, okay, let's try to apply that. What we've learned. So central world is, you know, based on this, applying what you have learned to this real world problem. And so I think that's what is really important and our students have really liked.

Yanely Espinal: That's awesome. So tell us a little bit about the student's responses. What have they been saying from doing some of these workshops and from especially the students that I'm most curious about are the students that came in really without knowing anything about how a code, a line of code, even like looks like or how you even write in a coding language.

Yanely Espinal: To take a student like that, who like had absolutely no knowledge about coding, but maybe they were taking a personal finance elective or, or a required class. And so they knew like the financial, maybe the piece was important, but came in with no coding experienced, no coding knowledge and, and what type of feedback that you have seen or have gotten from that particular type of student?

[00:14:49] Feedback from Students

Nikita Agrawal: We have our testimonial Tuesdays, and so for people on social media to see, but you know, in terms of people who have come into this program without That much prior experience in computer programming, I mean, they found it incredibly helpful. They found that our explanations were really helpful and that they were really happy that we, you know, explained everything step by step. And in, in terms of our global students, we had students from Indonesia and Thailand. And when we were running these sessions back here in Chicago, it was about 6:00 AM or 7:00 AM for them over there.

Nikita Agrawal: Which was a bit early for them, as they had to go to school and they would get up early and they would want to come to the sessions that we had. And so that was very inspirational and very moving to see, and just how these students have responded to the way that we explain things and the way that we teach it's been really positive and I think our explanations have really helped us sustain this model. 

Yanely Espinal: I'm sure there's gonna be some other financial topics that you might want to teach, but it's maybe a little tricky to kind of figure out how to code for a particular financial topic. So how do you go through choosing the topics that you actually do create modules? 

[00:16:07] Finding Personal Finance Topics to Include

Nikita Agrawal: Yeah, so first I started off with interest as I thought that was kind of that basic level there at like the first stepping stone in terms of financial literacy. So I started with interest, so that brought about simple and compound interest, and I think having that established, that just naturally leads into savings. And so that's our next topic and about saving. Then that just leads into budgeting and so that's our next. So trying to establish that sequence of, you know, not just throwing a bunch of financial concepts at you, but understanding that, look, there's a relationship you need to know how to save.

Nikita Agrawal: And if you can save early, then you can get some interest on what you save. And that's how your savings grow. And once you know how to save there, everybody has different things that they want and you have to allocate your savings to, you know, I want to save for college. And I also wanna say for, you know, vacation and Netflix and Hulu and entertainment.

Nikita Agrawal: And so balancing that, and I think that's really important. So seeing how the sequence of our lessons keeps progressing with one concept after another, that's really helped us, you know, pick the different financial concepts that we teach. We have tried to make it a bit easier to code so that our students can better experience the FinPro World curriculum.

Yanely Espinal: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. As teachers, everybody who's here is an educator, a teacher, and we know that students learn different ways. Some students like to read to learn. Some students like to write to learn. Some students like to listen to learn. Some students like to see visuals, watch videos, look at pictures. So when you know you have a group of a particular student or group of students that is much more inclined to learning visually that this is so powerful for them, and I imagine. It could really help them to, you know, bridge some gaps.

Nikita Agrawal: That's a really good point that you bring up. In terms of the FinPro World lessons, I think that by just seeing, you know, for example, a bar increasing and growing, they associate that with like, oh, okay, okay. My savings are growing and, and budgeting is growing, and that budgeting pool that I have is growing and that's good.

Yanely Espinal: Are the registered courses all free and or even how do students register? Tell us about how students can get involved and the cost if there is any.

[00:18:24] Accessing the FinPro World 

Nikita Agrawal: Yeah, so the courses are all free. And there's more information on our website, but we have currently run three sessions online through our Schoolhouse World partner. And one session in person at school. 

Yanely Espinal: Awesome. What are the aha moments that you hear about the most from students in the program?

[00:18:47] 'Aha' Moments

Nikita Agrawal: Yeah, definitely the aha moments are that, like, I've always heard that saving is important, but now I know why. I can see that, oh, it's important to save and the, the line. And that if I save, I have more money. Like my parents always told me that it's important for me to save and like, yeah, whatever. But now that I've participated in this course, I can better retain and understand why my parents tell me that. So that's one example. Another example is that, oh yes, we see that the compound interest, the time graph is very curved, it suddenly spikes at the end. And so that's why I should pay off my loans on time. So really the aha moments are. I understand why this is important.

[00:19:35] Conclusion

Yanely Espinal: You're phenomenal. You're so inspiring. I'm so proud of you and I just met you, so thank you for taking your time. We really appreciate it. 

Nikita Agrawal: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. It was truly an honor to share with all of you and for to see this community so committed towards financial education. It's very inspiring and I'm happy to know that we have the generation out there to support us.

Tim Ranzetta: Some housekeeping items before we go, we'll put links to the resources Nikita mentioned in the podcast. We'll put those in our show notes, which you can find at www.ngpf.org/podcasts. Better yet, subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcast. Leave us a review. Every review moves us up the ranking so more folks can benefit from our amazing guests. So go ahead and leave a review if you haven't done. At this point. Also wanna thank Ren Makino, he produces our podcast every week as well as the show notes. Thank you, Ren. So, on behalf of Yanely, Nikita and myself, I wanna thank you again for tuning in to this NGPF podcast. Have a wonderful week.

About the Authors

Tim Ranzetta

Tim's saving habits started at seven when a neighbor with a broken hip gave him a dog walking job. Her recovery, which took almost a year, resulted in Tim getting to know the bank tellers quite well (and accumulating a savings account balance of over $300!). His recent entrepreneurial adventures have included driving a shredding truck, analyzing executive compensation packages for Fortune 500 companies and helping families make better college financing decisions. After volunteering in 2010 to create and teach a personal finance program at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, Tim saw firsthand the impact of an engaging and activity-based curriculum, which inspired him to start a new non-profit, Next Gen Personal Finance.

Ren Makino

Ren started interning at NGPF in 2014, and worked part-time through high school and college. With his knowledge growing alongside NGPF, he joined the team to work full-time after graduating from college in 2020. He is also the producer of the NGPF podcast. During his free time, he likes to try out coffees from different roasters across the world.

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