Tough Times, Smart Planning

Published: May 1, 2020
(woman checking her phone)

As the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic first began to reach headlines in March, many peoples’ first thoughts were of their and their loved ones’ health. But, in the days that followed, another shock wave hit, revealing drops in world markets that threatened the savings of young and old alike.

As a financial advisor, Bryan Kelly ’92, economics, took the news very personally. But then he quickly jumped to action, setting up a series of web-based “fireside chats” to keep people informed in a way that only he could.

For financially-savvy Retrievers like Kelly, helping their community get through this latest challenge just makes good sense. Here are a few examples of how our community is reaching together to offer sound advice on money, careers, and more.

Share your own stories of Retriever Resilience by using #UMBCTogether on social media, and read more at

A Matter of Trust

Kelly grew up in a small town where everyone knew their neighbors, including the beloved local doctor. Think Norman Rockwell, and you’ll get the picture.

“I went from painting his fences and tending to his flower beds to being his financial advisor and planner. I told him I wanted to be him, but in financial planning,” says Kelly, who wound up becoming founding partner at The Kelly Group, a family-focused financial planning business. 

And so, when the pandemic hit, Kelly did what he did during the October 2008 recession—he offered “a reassuring voice” and delivered an hour-long financial chat to almost 300 clients and friends from his Darlington home. “And no, I’m not in my pajamas,” he joked, lightening the mood before getting into some very serious advice.

“It is at times like these that people under tremendous pressure are overcome with fear and tend to make mistakes that can affect them for years,” he told the group as he also wrote in his hometown paper, the Aegis

Kelly credits UMBC economics professor emeritus Chuck Peake for “teaching me what investing means,” and for being “one of my pillars.”

“We want to serve as a guiding light to help prevent these mistakes, and perhaps even help you find opportunities in this adversity,” he says.

Building Blocks

Under normal circumstances, the prospect of managing one’s finances and getting a job out of college is stressful enough. Add to that a global pandemic, and college students are understandably nervous. That’s why campus experts are doubling down and going virtual to make sure students have the best footing possible.

UMBC’s FinancialSmarts program, a financial literacy education program, offers students the chance to participate in online and virtual courses and workshops, earn digital badges, and engage with alumni coaches who can help them practice their skills.

“We know that if our students are to realize the full benefit of their UMBC degrees, they will need to make good, sound financial decisions along the way,” says Hannah Sadollah ’19, psychology, program specialist for financial literacy and education. “FinancialSmarts was developed to give students the tools necessary to make informed and effective decisions about their finances. Our goal is to provide students with timely and relevant resources so that they are as well-prepared to manage their budgets, bank accounts, assets, and debt as they are to master their academic pursuit.”

In April, more than 180 students took part in Money Smart Week, an interactive series of online workshops offering everything from a Jeopardy!-style financial wellness game to “Adulting 101” and a “Credit Cafe.”  Knowing that almost 70 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, and understanding the nervousness about meeting basic financial needs during the pandemic, Sadollah and her colleagues are passionate about helping students become financially literate. 

“With the rise in unemployment claims due to the pandemic we are reminded of the importance of saving at least three months living expenses if you are salaried, and at least six months if you are self-employed,” she says. “Financial literacy is an important and necessary life skill. In a time where we are hyper focused on our health, it’s important for us to recognize the effect our finances have on mental, emotional, and physical health.”  

Meanwhile, as an unsteady job market looms, the Career Center has been proactively working with students to brush up their search skills and find internships and full-time employment. Even from afar, the center is offering plenty of one-on-one advising, as well as a full calendar of virtual career-related events, including alumni panels, employer recruiting sessions, and workshops on everything from acing remote interviews, moving from internships into full-time employment, and personal branding, says center director Christine Routzahn

“Some students are naturally concerned about their internship and career plans,” says Routzahn. “Our Career Center team is committed to making sure that students know we are available and are here to help when ready.” 

Routzahn and her colleagues are actively encouraging students to reflect on their values and career aspirations while also taking time to practice self care and find opportunities to sharpen skills that will make them stand out to employers. Later this summer, the Career Center will offer a virtual career fair in collaboration with other Maryland Career Consortium institutions, offering direct connections to organizations looking to hire.
Washington Post columnist and UMBC Parent Michelle Singletary gives a shout out to the UMBC Career Center around the three-minute mark.

“During these uncertain times, you may naturally have concerns about your career plans. Remember that you are not alone and that many students are sharing a similar experience,” advises Routzahn. “We are all in this together and the Career Center team is here for you.  Even though the road ahead may not be easy, there are still a lot of opportunities out there to gain great experience.”  

Connections Matter

As the owner of 3 Pillars Co., a events and business consulting firm, Lois Sarfo-Mensah ’15, emergency health services, is used to working hard to stay afloat—and helping other businesses do the same. In her side gig as ambassador of the Baltimore chapter of Ladies Get Paid (LGP), she extends even further, creating networks for advocacy and support for working women, many of whom are understandably concerned right now.

“The greatest concern is what is next,” she says. “It is such an unsettling time and there is hesitation on pivoting to careers or businesses, staying put until it is over, or focusing on development during this time at home. Each having their own implications—especially financially.”

While there has been hope among many small business owners about federal and state grant and loan programs, the processes have not been easy to navigate. Going forward, coming together as a community will be more important than ever, says Sarfo-Mensah, who through LGP is working on creating events such as community conversations and virtual happy hours to allow for connection and discussion of grief and trauma brought on by the pandemic.

“From the onset of this virus and the news of the slowdown to shutdown of many industries, I have been steadfast with anyone I have spoken to about this change that we need to be on the side of solution and support rather than reaction,” she says. 

“We have to support each other… whether it is referring business owners, supporting local, keeping engaged with community efforts such as PPE production, and sharing out the information you receive to any one who may need it…. This way everyone can be starting from the same place or be as equitable as possible.”

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Header image by bruce mars on Unsplash

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