Alan Wilson likes challenges.
The College of Business and Economics Accounting Club had become torpid during the early 2000s. For Wilson, who became the club's president in 2009, that was a dare, one he took pleasure in meeting.
As he graduates on May 14 at the WVU Coliseum, he can look back at a revived club—one that has had an impact on the local community.
Membership went from zero to three score, and Wilson has involved the club in public service, presenting seminars on the risks of student debt at area high schools.
Wilson had seen the movie Maxed Out about how the burden of credit card debt can be overwhelming, and he was shocked to learn that two college students in Texas committed suicide because they couldn't cope with their debts.
"I was astounded that someone who was able to get a college degree didn't understand about debt," said Wilson, a Morgantown resident and a 2008 graduate of Clay Battelle High School.
He contacted local high school guidance counselors and teachers and was invited to come into two schools last fall to present to students panel discussions on personal finances and debt.
"Our goal was to provide techniques for the students to lead them to financial freedom – so that they could one day retire early without debt by starting at a young age to be debt free," he said.
According to the Project on Student Debt, in 2008, students graduating from public universities have an average debt of $20,200, up 20 percent since 2004. The average U.S. household has $9,000 in credit card debt and pays more than $1,000 a year in interest.
Wilson points out to the high school student that there is "bad debt" and "good debt."
"It's typical that high school students graduate with credit card balances," he said, "and for college students to graduate thousands of dollars in debt." If they went into debt buying fashionable clothes, electronic gadgets and a car they couldn't afford, these students were amassing "bad debt." On the other hand, getting into debt in order to obtain a solid education is "good debt," Wilson said.
He doesn't know if his club's message to the high school students had an impact, but it was a challenge, and he tried. "Our presentation sparked interested responses, but only time will tell the lasting impact of the message," he said.
Accounting Club faculty advisor Presha Neidermeyer said Wilson's work in reviving the club was just one part of a positive academic career. "Alan has been successful, I think, because of his love for engagement within the academic community and larger community through the club's seminars. He developed that on his own and has had very good results," she said.
Wilson, whose great grandparents owned a grocery store and warehouse in Morgantown, said he learned from them the value of paying as you go, entrepreneurship, meeting challenges and giving back to the community.
"My grandparents didn't believe in credit," he said, "but today, society doesn't even think of cash. People live beyond their means. If they don't have things, they think they aren't as happy, and people are competitive over possessions and status—it's today's consumerism, crass consumption without a purpose. It's simply buying as much as you can get approved, and it's a losing game."
His grandparents faced adversity (one of their warehouses burned) but still gave back to the community, he said. That kind of challenge made an imprint on Wilson. A 4.0 student, he has completed two summer internships with WesBanco Bank Inc. to his credit, and he has been accepted into the WVU College of Law.
With his accounting background, he plans to focus on tax law. "In my life, I've wanted to do everything," he said. "I want to have as many positive careers experiences as possible, to be able to be involved in many professional areas. I want to be a tax attorney, and I want to own a small business. But most important, my goal is to make any place better than it was when I got there. That's my approach to life."