Assignment: Education-Virtual Finance Project

Meet Gobbler Swindelhurst. This virtual man is a 3-D model, known as an avatar, of the vice president of retail operations at Altra Federal Credit Union.

V.P. Steve Koenen created his avatar so he could take part in this online game designed by a Virginia-based company to teach kids about personal finance. Altra is teaming up with Holmen High School to give students their first lesson.

“This is the first school in the entire nation that will have this introduced into their school curriculum,” said Lori Horstman, Altra Federal Credit Union education manager.

The online game, known as the Virtual Finance Project, will be used as a tool to enhance lessons in Holmen High School’s personal finance class.

“You go from age 18 to age 65 and you make decisions along the way,” said Koenen, “and some of the decisions you make like buy a car, rent or buy a home, invest in a 401k. But other things are given to you like you just got married, you just had children, you just had car repair… things like that.”

Throughout the game, a student’s savings account and credit score are a reflection of the decisions they make. Students are able to learn how to buy a car, for example, by watching tutorials within the game.

“When you make a mistake when buying a car, for instance, when you buy a car that’s way more than you can afford based on your income… in our game… there’s a notice that tells you your credit score is dropping, your balances in your credit union savings or checking account is dropping and pretty soon a bankruptcy notice comes up and you start the game over… where in real life you’d learn from that mistake for years to come,” said Koenen.

The hope of bankers at Altra and Holmen High School educators is that this game will help keep students from making life-changing mistakes.

“It seems like all the trends we have right now are all these college students in debt and getting into trouble after high school with loans and with debt,” said Amy McCutchen, Holmen High School business teacher, “and I just really hope those trends can change in the near future because that’s a really hard way to start off right out of high school.”

And by teaching students using one of their favorite pastime activities, bankers and educators are hoping the lessons will stick.

“It’s more of a virtual or immersive way to learn,” said Nick Weber, Holmen High School business teacher. “So, students are engaged or immersing themselves in the program. It’s not just listening to a lecture and taking notes, it’s more learning by doing.”

And if students can finish this game in the virtual world without having to file for bankruptcy and have a good 401k balance at retirement age, they will have a better understanding of how to make proper personal finance decisions in the real world.

“I think that we just want to make sure that they make good choices now so they don’t run into the same types of situations that we’re seeing in the economy right now,” said Horstman.