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Students Use Pen and Ink to Educate about Credit Card Debt


Starting this fall, a group of Fordham students will sound a cautionary note about the lure of credit cards and the shockingly high debt they can bring.

Their messenger is Jennifer Burns, a fictional teenager who gets herself into big financial trouble—more than $5,000 worth—by abusing her new spending power.

She’s the main character in a comic book that students will produce and distribute on campus. It’s one project of Fordham’s chapter of Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE), a global organization that promotes business education and community service.

Joseph Bertino displays the comic book about credit card debt that was created by Fordham’s chapter of Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE). Photo by Bruce Gilbert

Credit was a natural topic to tackle because collegians are taking out student loans and financing their own activities for the first time, said Joseph Bertino, a rising sophomore in the Honors Program at Fordham College at Rose Hill, who proposed the idea.

The book’s title is Street Smart Credit. Students collaborated on the story and tapped a student artist Maggie Eckl to draw the 20-page book.

“We were learning a lot as well” by conducting research on topics such as the monthly compounding of interest, Bertino said.

SIFE is represented at more than 1,500 universities worldwide. Its students undertake projects that develop their business skills and benefit their communities.

Catrina Cunningham, associate director and employee relations manager in the Department of Career Services, said the program’s emphasis on service made it a natural fit for Fordham. She launched the Fordham chapter last fall.

“There’s this whole idea of service and service learning, because you’re doing things that help people,” she said. She raised funds to establish a SIFE chapter at Columbia University when she worked there, and wanted to bring its benefits to Fordham.

“That’s the essence of professional development and experiential education, when you apply and connect what you’re learning in the classroom to everyday life,” she said.

SIFE projects must address at least one of five concepts: market economics, financial literacy, success skills, business ethics and entrepreneurship.

SIFE students at other universities have introduced ecotourism to a poverty-stricken Tibetan village, helped villagers in Ghana develop their beekeeping businesses and helped a Sudanese refugee set up a thriving business in Arizona, among other projects.

The comic book touches on an important topic that gets scant attention among students, said Kelly Chiang, an incoming junior in the College of Business Administration.

“There’s a lack of understanding about credit, and how important it is to keep your credit history [intact], and be responsible with spending,” she said. “It’s just something that’s not really talked about unless you’re in a business environment.”

The students plan to print at least 300 copies of the book this fall and pass it out in a freshman residence hall, along with a questionnaire to help them improve it. The students hope to make it the first in a series about personal finance topics. The comic won the HSBC Financial Literacy Grant in April at the regional SIFE competition in Tarrytown, N.Y., Cunningham said.

The students will try to grow the club this year and get officially recognized by the University, Bertino said. It is open to students of all majors.

For another project, students helped market “Live From Da Yard,” a nationally syndicated radio show produced by students at the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University.

Students contacted college radio programs around the country to market the show. They also built a page for the show on and enhanced the program’s page, said Bridget Crane, a rising junior at the Rose Hill campus.

“Those two websites were perfect because that’s the age group we’re trying to target, and what better way than the Internet?” she said. Their efforts will continue this year.

For another project, SIFE students collaborated with Fordham’s International Service Learning Program and Students for Fair Trade, selling jewelry and soapstone ornaments on campus to aid the companies in Kenya that produced them.

They had planned to visit Kenya in December to work with the companies directly, but had to cancel because of violence that broke out in the country, said Randeep Anand, an incoming junior in the College of Business Administration.

He and three other students, along with a professor, traveled to India in March to line up a similar project there, Anand said.


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