Carolyn Cooper: from Silicon Valley to the Classroom
by Erinn Heffes
Carolyn Cooper is a Certified Public Accountant, a Financial Educator and a Coach with professional experience and a passion for creating productive lives that inspire growth and independence in young people.She immigrated to San Jose, California from Kuwait when she was 13 years old. A major reason for this move was to afford her the opportunity of an education because opportunities for women were limited in Kuwait at that time. Despite taking an accounting class in high school and thoroughly enjoying it, she realized that she was not taught personal finance. While attending UC Santa Barbara, Cooper studied Business Economics with an emphasis in Accounting. She took part in a class that introduced a sliver of consumer economics; living on your own, creating a budget, renting an apartment, buying a car etc. Asides from this class, most of Cooper’s finance knowledge was self-taught. She came across a radio station that discussed personal finance and investing and through simply listening to this station while driving back and forth from school, Cooper educated herself on personal finance. Cooper eventually ended up pursuing a career in Public Accounting and as soon as she got her first job, she invested in a 401k plan and opened up her IRA account at the same time.
When her daughters were growing up, she observed that they were not being taught anything on finance and Cooper says she observed that many of the classes she took on personal finance no longer existed. Cooper believed that this was a necessary class her daughters should be taking and a topic they needed to be educated on. Cooper shared an entry with me from 2013 from her journal, while attending a “back to school night” for her daughters where parents were being informed on specific content and aspects. In her journal Cooper wrote about an ‘aha’ moment she had on personal finance and wondered why they were not educating young individuals on personal finance from high school. Cooper, realizing that most of her financial knowledge was self-taught and that not only her daughters but her friends, employees and peers did not have the necessary financial knowledge they actually needed and was available, Cooper realized there was a serious need that had to be fulfilled. Cooper had a successful career in Silicon Valley and was able to save and invest with her husband for years. This allowed her the ability to stop working and rekindle her passion for teaching and educating others, specifically on financial literacy.
Throughout her research, Cooper came across Next Gen Personal Finance and began taking classes with them. She began teaching before the COVID-19 pandemic and like many she did now allow her plan and passion to be derailed and she has continued teaching via Zoom classes. Cooper says that, “It isn’t a job… it’s a dream. THE dream job” If there was one thing that Cooper wishes someone told her when she was younger, it is the importance of honing your soft skills; being more open, volunteering, public speaking and simply putting yourself out there. Cooper incorporates these skills from early in her classes so that students are prepared for when their professional careers develop. Asides from public speaking and networking, Cooper believes that one major skill that is necessary in this area is behavioral finance and practicing living within your means. Cooper says, “It is not just the actual skills of literally here is a spreadsheet and you start filling it out…there is a lot of behavioral finance that goes into it.” There is more to finance than dollars and cents and Cooper wants to help people to understand this. While behavioral finance is a major skill Cooper believes needs to be pushed, she also believes this is the major issue in terms of financial literacy. The notion of not really understanding what it is and not having these foundational skills.
Cooper says that we would never give a 16 year old the keys to a car without the proper driving certifications, so why would we give them the keys to everything as soon as they turn 18, with no training. At the age of 18, one can open a bank account, sign up for credit cards etc. all on their own, yet they frequently lack the education to support these processes properly. She says that COVID has created great awareness and there is now a momentum and everyone simply has to do their share. Cooper is extremely passionate about this issue and providing access to this knowledge to all. As a result, Cooper’s classes are not necessarily non-profit nor are they ‘for business.’ She does charge for some classes, but believes this helps to build accountability and attendance. Cooper does offer some classes for free and waives fees. She really wants to teach and for it to be affordable. She wants everyone to have that access and believes the earlier they have this access the better.
Carolyn is an incredible advocate (Advocate Profile) and all of us at FinMango would like to thank you for what you are doing. Click this link if you want to become a FinMango advocate: https://finmango.org/campaign.