Park Fellows Teach Finance and Investing at Ithaca High School

By: Alison Fromme
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When Mark Betancourt, MBA ’24, arrived at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business in the fall of 2021, he had already graduated from the US Merchant Marine Academy, served as a marine engineer on commercial and naval vessels, and, along the way, saved and invested some of his earnings. But, he admits, “I really had no idea about how money and investments work.”

He wondered, “What if I’d had the opportunity to gain greater financial literacy as a teen and young adult so I wasn’t playing catch-up at 27 or 28 years old?”

That question led Betancourt and classmate Devon Farrell, MBA ’24, to Ithaca High School (IHS) this past spring. As two of the 25 Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows in their MBA cohort, the pair taught a series of finance and investing classes to students in Tony Sauve’s personal finance classes.

“One of the key tenets of the Park Leadership Fellowship is building leadership capability through service,” said Laura Georgianna, executive director of leadership programs, Donald F. Douglas Director of the Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows Program, and senior lecturer of management and operations at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

The Triad Foundation, chaired by Roy H. Park Jr., MBA ’63, funds the Park Leadership Fellowship. The foundation honors the legacy of his late father, Roy H. Park Sr., a communication mogul and entrepreneur who was highly involved in activities at Cornell. May 2024 marked the 25th graduating class of Park Fellows.

“Students pursue a huge range of projects during their fellowship,” Georgianna said. Recently, projects have addressed issues in affordable housing; regional economic development; farmers market marketing; diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies for local museums; and client experiences in addiction recovery services. “One benefit of the Park Fellowship being here, co-located with the foundation, is that our fellows have positive impact in this community.”

Many projects span multiple years and are stewarded by different students as they progress through the program, graduate, and begin their careers. Betancourt and Farrell’s work is a continuation of a project launched by Valerie Hanke, MBA ’23, now manager of commercial data strategy at American Express. Hanke said her interest in financial inclusion motivated her to go back to her alma mater –IHS– and help students understand how to build credit and participate in investing.

Betancourt and Farrell built on Hanke’s previous work and Sauve’s curriculum. Using lectures, class discussion, and games, they taught concepts like time value of money, the difference between stocks and bonds, and how to calculate risk and reward.

“We talked a lot about current events,” said Samuel H., an 11th grader in the class. “When the Fed raised interest rates, we talked about what the Fed was and what it meant to raise interest rates. [Betancourt and Farrell] came in and taught things that were interesting and meaningful in the moment.”

For that, Betancourt said he and Farrell took a cue from Sanjeev Bhojraj, Alumni Professor in Asset Management and faculty co-director of the Parker Center for Investment Research at the Johnson School, who used current events to make abstract concepts relevant—an approach Betancourt appreciated.

“[Betancourt and Farrell] had great synergy and asked me for teaching tips,” said Sauve, who has taught high school for seven years. “I’m appreciative that they came out to teach the class, and they left slides and worksheets that we’ll reuse through the years.”