Lance Palmer’s decision to teach and the way he teaches were both influenced by experiences he encountered as a master’s of business student at the University of Utah.Palmer, an assistant professor in the housing and consumer economics department of the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, thought he would finish his M.B.A. and work in corporate accounting.
But while tutoring members of the university’s women’s soccer and men’s basketball teams, he began to reconsider his goals.
“That’s when I started thinking about becoming a faculty member,” he said. “It felt like it provided a good mix of teaching and applying myself in other areas. I also began to realize that I was more interested in helping individuals in their financial lives than working with businesses.”
It was a course evaluation question that asked whether the class prepared students for a career in their field that affected Palmer’s style of teaching.
“That question always stuck with me,” Palmer said. “I always want to make sure that the students in my classes can apply the knowledge they’re gaining to what they do in their careers.”
Those influences led Palmer to earn a Ph.D. in family, consumer and human development with a focus on family financial planning at Utah State University and to pursue a university career that emphasizes applied learning in both his research and teaching.
Since arriving at UGA in 2004, the 2009 Richard B. Russell Teaching Award winner has led the college’s effort to establish an undergraduate degree in family financial planning and a non-thesis master’s degree in FFP.
On its Web site, family financial planning is described as training graduates to help “individuals create and manage wealth in order to achieve personal and family goals.”
Some of the programs Palmer has organized are retirement education lunch-and-learns that have been held on campus for staff and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, which allows undergraduates who have received IRS-approved training to prepare tax returns.
“These programs give students a greater sense of understanding,” Palmer said. “They’ve had to learn to work through their own insecurities and it gives them some sense of what working with clients is like.”
Palmer and two FACS colleagues have recently received a $280,000 challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand family financial planning education further across the state of Georgia by developing partnerships with Clark Atlanta University, Moultrie Technical College and Dalton State College.
“One of the primary goals of our program is to increase the number of low and moderate-income families of all ethnic groups who work with financial planners,” Palmer said. “Part of making that happen requires matching the demographics of our profession with that of the families we hope to work with.”
A primary focus of the grant will be the establishment of a family financial planning emphasis at Clark Atlanta University, a predominantly African-American university whose roots date back to 1865.
“Implementing an undergraduate program will familiarize students with the field of financial planning, but we hope we can recruit some of those students into our graduate program,” Palmer said. “Expanding the diversity of our field at every level means that we’re ultimately going to be able to help more families plan their financial future.”
Palmer and his UGA colleagues are working with faculty and FACS Cooperative Extension agents at Dalton State and Moultrie Technical colleges to train students in the VITA program.
“If students can see there’s a real opportunity to work with moderate income households on financial issues, perhaps they’ll direct their career interests that way,” he said.
Palmer’s research emphasizes how opportunities to receive financial planning assistance can be expanded and improved, particularly for families with low to moderate incomes.
“Right now, there are very few financial planning professionals focusing on moderate-income households,” he said. “I think if we can demonstrate that there is room for successful firms to target that market, we’ll see more of our graduates considering that route. Meanwhile, my research is focused on how financial education is delivered in communities and ensuring that what’s being delivered truly helps those who are receiving it.”