Day 10: A Pioneer’s Journey

Our first mentor speech of the morning was given by Alyssa Lovegrove, a professor of entrepreneurship at Georgetown University. She spoke to us about her startup company she had and her professional experience in London. Our second mentor was Rhett Weiss, the executive director of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute at Cornell University. He talked to us about negotiating and had us participate in a negotiation simulation. From this I found that I am a terrible negotiator and should leave that work to a better professional. Our third speaker was Jonathon Perrelli who is a managing director and co-founder of  a venture capital firm in Washington, DC. He talked to us about his investment strategy and what he looks for in startups before he decides to invest in them or not.

Our evening was spent at the National Geographic Headquarters for a finale event. We were joined by mentors from the trip who are based in DC as well as the sponsors for our trip. We each shared what our projects were about and what we learned from our experiences from the trip. Here is a song that one of the participants from the trip wrote about the Millennial Trains Project.

Our last day together was spent at the Evermay Estate on the Georgetown University campus. We enjoyed our last breakfast and Pioneer’s Journey together before we all parted ways. I cannot be more thankful for everyone who donated to my project and believed in my idea. Part of what I have taken away from the trip is that I am considering starting my own consulting firm where I would go into universities and teach students about their finances. I am so grateful to have been able to spend these last 10 days with the most inspiring and hard-working individuals who now I am able to call my Millennial Trains family.


Day 9: Steeler City

This morning I sat down for a brief interview with Jeff Selingo about higher education and financing for college. We then made our way to Thrill Mill when a representative of Bombardier spoke about the future of transit. We also the cofounders of Sole Power speak to us about their shoe insole that captures kinetic energy from your foot and allows you to charge you phone.

Today I talked with students at Carnegie Mellon University, the nerd
capital of American universities. One of the students I talked to happened to be from Minnesota. She saw a business card of one of my coworkers and told me that she banks with the place I intern with! That’s the third connection I’ve had on this trip, remarkable! We then took a tour of East End Brewery for a social sampling event. Boy, do they have good ginger ale and root beer!

In the evening we were joined by the Editor in-Chief of National Geographic Traveler Keith Bellows. He spoke about where he sees the future of travel. An interesting quote from his speech that intrigued me was “Travel is not the same as vacation”. My experience on this trip echos this quote from Keith. No one has thought of this trip as a vacation, but  rather as a journey. As we are the inaugural group of this project, that makes us on the Pioneer’s Journey.


Day 8: Surviving

Our morning started out at 1871 which is a co-working space located in the Merchandise Mart of downtown Chicago. We had another Idea Morning in this space with two speakers talk about design. We also had Mark Hogg, founder of Water Step, talk about how his company is working to make water safer and more accessible around the world.

My afternoon was spent in Evanston, IL at Northwestern University with Greg Wilson who is another participant on the train. I was able to talk with a couple of students and even ran into a student who takes film classes with my best friend. The most profound talk I had was with a Ph.D. accounting student who really only knew the company his credit card came from.

We were joined in the evening by Michael Oreskes, VP and Senior Managing Editor of the Associated Press to talk about media and its effect on democracy. We were also joined by Jeff Selingo, the editor for The Chronicle for Higher Education, and talked about the future of higher education. This has been my favorite speakers thus far on the trip because of the passion and questions that the participants had for these speakers.

We are in the last few days of our trip and is sad that this experience to end. I definitely won’t miss trying to shower on train or having early mornings where I haven’t fully recovered from the day before. However, I have learned so much in areas such as leadership, reflection and innovative thought that I would not have learned in a cubicle or classroom and I am so grateful for this extraordinary opportunity.


Day 7: The Windy City

Most of today was spent on the train. We traveled to Chicago and arrived early afternoon. I went with a group to Millennium Park to take pictures in front of the Cloud Gate (aka The Bean). We then took a subway to a place called Logan Share for an evening event to listen to a speaker about proposals for improving transportation in Chicago.

Today was very low key so there is not much to say. Tomorrow I am going to Northwestern University in Evanston, IL to talk with students.

The Bean


Day 6: Stark Contrast

In an earlier blog post, I quoted one of our speakers that success is the management of our failures. Today, I took that theory to test. Our day was first started with an Idea Morning session hosted by one of our own participants, Jason D’Mello. We were talked to by Ann from the Stored Potential Project which involved hanging mural banners from an abandoned grain silo in Omaha to bring art into the Omaha community.

During today’s project phase I ventured out to Creighton University to talk with students. I talked with one of our on-train reporters, Robert Reid from National Geographic, about a new approach to engaging with students. I hit a 100% success rate with talking to students and had very open conversations with students. I talked with one student who was working at the school coffee shop and learned the financial difficulties of pursuing a graduate degree. Our 20 minute conversation together lead him to offering me a free cup of coffee! (Now since I am from Minnesota it comes as no surprise that the Midwest is full of genuine and giving people.)

I also talked to an individual who worked at the school’s help desk. He was drinking out of a University of Minnesota water bottle so I was immediately intrigued. I began asking questions about where in Minnesota he was from and our conversation lead to the discovery that his family friend is my sister’s best friend! It was quite evident from this encounter that we all are truly connected in some way or another. Overall the students I talked to knew very little about their personal finances and were embarrassed to admit that, but what I found was that the further along students were in their educational path the more in tune they were with their finances.

One interesting conversation I had today was with a branch manager of a local credit union who has a branch located on campus. We had an insightful conversation about what students come to the credit union for most and what the credit union does for its students. He said that they hold a seminar for students about finances when it gets close to graduation time but they don’t see a turnout that makes having the event be worth throwing. I was reaffirmed by this when I asked students about said events, and the general response was that if it wasn’t mandatory then they wouldn’t go. The interesting thing about this is that they went on to say that they would like to have a financial literacy-type class as a mandatory part of the high school/college curriculum. One piece of our conversation that really frustrated me, as well as the credit union manager, was that US Bank provides plastic cards for Creighton University’s student ID’s so they get students to sign up for a US Bank account. The ironic thing about this is that US Bank has no physical presence on campus yet they are able to encompass all of the students and get them to sign up for their account. They also link their student ID’s to their tuition bill which allows students to use their card for purchases. What they don’t explicitly say is that they are not serviced by Visa or MasterCard so they cannot make purchases outside of a school’s bookstore.

There is no easy answer to this issue as not everyone agrees with where the responsibility lies for learning about managing one’s personal finances. But this is why I am out here, to give recommendations and product/consulting ideas for universities and financial institutions to help students. The majority of a student’s upbringing is spent in a school, so why not utilize that time to inform and engage students so they can make smarter and more informed choices about their personal finances when the time comes. As there is the time value of money, there is also the time value of education. The money you invest now will be worth more in the future, just as the investment in financial education made now will return a higher yield of informed students in the future.



Day 5: Rejection

Our morning was started out with a talk from Erik Mitisek who is a technology startup advocate for the Denver area and the creator of Denver Startup Week. His goal is to make Denver the third large technology city in the United States. We then took a trip to Galvanize which is a place for entrepreneurs to collaborate on ideas through pillars of capital, community, and curriculum. We heard from Tami Door, CEO of the Downtown Denver Project which is is working to revitalize the downtown Denver area. We also listened to Richard Eidlin who focuses on public policy and sustainability with the American Sustainable Business Council.

We were finally able to start working on our projects this today. I started out my day by going to the University of Denver to talk to students. It turns out that there really aren’t any students on campuses during the summer in Denver so I only had one person to talk to. This student had no idea about any of his personal finances but could answer every pop culture I threw at him, and that didn’t surprise me any. I then made my way over to a tri-college village to talk with more students. I started out by talking with two credit unions on campus about what they see students coming in for help with the most. They both mentioned that confusion of loans was the biggest issues they deal with students on a daily basis. Both credit unions also offer free credit score analysis which is awesome! I then ventured out to talk with students until I was approached by an administrative staff that reported I was not allowed to speak about finances with students in that campus and they escorted me out. As far as research goes, today did not go well at all.

As I slummed my way back to our train I came across the Federal Reserve Bank that acts as a branch of the Federal Reserve in Kansas. I went inside and took a tour of what they had to offer. They had on display old currency that dates back to the early 1700’s. They also had money bags with $165 in them that they gave out for free (the catch is that the money is inked and shredded).

We are headed to Omaha tonight and will arrive by early morning. I am hoping I don’t run into any issues with talking to students as I did here, otherwise I may have to rework my project and goals.


Day 4: Denver Part 2

Today was an eventful day in the beautiful Denver, CO. We started out the morning listening to Denielle Sachs who is a Director of Social Impact with McKensey Company that does work in education and health. We then participated in a Pioneer’s Journey session and worked on personal reflection of goals we have with this trip. It is nice to have time to reflect and do soul searching because it is not something I get to do on a normal day’s basis. I have found it very relaxing and that it puts me in an ease of mind from the everyday mundane tasks of life.

Following the reflection we took a walk to the Infinite Monkey Theorem which is an urban winery in Denver. What’s interesting about this place is that the owner has taken the initiative in not only selling wine in bottles but also in pop cans. This convenience is perfect for the Colorado scene so that people can bring cans of wine outdoors with them when they go camping or can enjoy wine at an outdoor sporting event in the stands. From what I heard from the other participants, the wine in the can tastes very good.  

Our afternoon was spent at Taxi in Denver which is a creative space for businesses to work in. We listened to Travis Price, an incredible architect out of Washington DC, speak about the different projects he has done and his inspiration from poetry, stories, and backgrounds that influence his work. We then went outside and created our own sculpture area of out bales of hay and crafts that we made during the afternoon.

The evening was spent with a pool party and social networking event at Taxi. They have taken large shipping containers and transformed it into a pool, how awesome!

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the incredible chefs we have on board. Chef Sam Crocker works in a New York City restaurant owned by Jean Georges Vongeritchen whom owns one of New York’s best restaurants. We have been spoiled with incredible dishes such as prosciutto cotto sandwiches, fennel & honeydew gazpacho, and lamb burgers to name a few. He is being help by chef John who is a recent culinary school grad.

I am anxious to find out what students in Colorado know or don’t know about their finances. I am waiting for the one individual who has a captivating story to be told that sheds light on the financial illiteracy.