5 credit-building tips for financial health

What makes you your FICO credit score infographicA recent Wells Fargo survey shows that one-third of Americans worry more about their finances than their health.

Just like regular medical check-ups, regular reviews of your credit can help keep you financially healthy and may even increase your cash flow through lower interest rates.

To help promote financial health and wellness, we are reviving our popular Free Credit Score and Complimentary Credit Report program. In addition to becoming one of the more than 800,000 customers who have  taken advantage of this program since we first offered it in 2012, we encourage you to integrate the below tips into your daily life.

Credit-building tips

  1. Check your credit report annually. Make sure your credit report contains current and accurate information. Errors could negatively affect your credit score and even be a sign of possible identity theft. Request a free copy of your credit report at least once a year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
  2. Pay your bills on time. Your payment history is one of the biggest factors in your credit score – including things that may surprise you like on-time payment of your rent and cell phone bill. Using free online tools such as Wells Fargo’s Budget Watch can help you stay on top of monthly expenses.  And, pay more than the minimum payment whenever possible to keep your debt level manageable and reduce the cost of borrowing.
  3. Keep monthly debt at no more than 35 percent of your gross monthly income. Lenders look at the amount of debt a consumer has compared to their monthly income when making credit decisions. To calculate your debt-to-income ratio, add up what you owe each month in rent/house payment, credit card payments, student and other loans, and then divide that total by your monthly income before taxes. For example, if your monthly income before taxes is $3,000 and you owe $1,000 in monthly payments, then your debt-to-income ratio is 33 percent. To keep track of your monthly income and expenses, consider using a budget worksheet like the Hands on Banking Budget toolkit.
  4. Understand how strong credit affects your bottom line. Your credit score influences the interest rate you qualify for when applying for all types of loans. The lower the interest rate, the less you’ll pay in interest. Many websites, including wellsfargo.com, offer calculators that help consumers understand how interest rates affect their payment and the total cost of the loan.
  5. Establish and maintain healthy credit — even if you don’t need a loan. Lenders aren’t the only businesses who use credit scores to make decisions — many insurance companies, cell phone providers, and landlords do, too.

If you haven’t checked your credit score lately, visit a Wells Fargo banking store or go online to wellsfargo.com/freecredit score and learn how you can get a unique personal access code to receive a free credit score and complimentary credit report. We’re offering the service Oct. 1 – Nov. 16, 2014 as part of our support of the American Bankers Association’s Get Smart About Credit program — a national campaign to raise awareness about the responsible use of credit.

To learn more about how to responsibly manage your finances and achieve your financial goals, visit any one of these free online resources:

Here’s to your financial health!

Rating your credit score chart with categories and definitions

About Gary
Korotzer leads the Wells Fargo Consumer Credit Solutions Marketing team, where he oversees marketing support for multiple lines of business, including Credit Card, Personal Lines and Loans, Direct Auto, Fee-based Services, Rewards and Student Lending.

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Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator stokes innovation in finance

From the 27 years I’ve worked here at Wells Fargo, I can tell you that we’re very focused on innovation and bringing new technologies inside our company. We leverage technology to provide value and value-added services to our customers.

We’ve been doing this a long time. Back in 1995, we were the first bank in the nation to give customers free Internet access to balances in their checking, savings, line of credit, and credit card accounts. That same year, a new company called Virtual Vineyards became our first customer to make a secure payment over the internet.

So, when we saw an opportunity to meet more entrepreneurs like that — companies that are just starting out — and bring them into the fold, we decided to build the Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator. It’s when we bring their ideas in, and our people at Wells Fargo see that happening, that it really unleashes the creative talent across our company. And I think that’s a huge advantage for us.

Believe me, I talk to a lot of technology companies from around the globe, and it amazes me how many cool and potentially game-changing ideas are out there. So what we’ve built with this accelerator is a way to find innovative ideas faster and turn them into companies that can help us serve our customers better. Ideas about mobile, big data, analytics, and security. The next big things.

Watch a video about three business that went through the Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator on the Wells Fargo Stories website.

Our Startup Accelerator is fundamentally different, in my estimation, because it focuses on innovation — not return on investment. Sure, we put up as much as half a million dollars to give each startup a chance to grow. But what we get in return is an early look at the next big ideas that will help us serve our customers even better. The startups also get a big push in the direction of being ready to sell their services to anyone — not just Wells Fargo.

Another difference is that our Startup Accelerator dedicates a Wells Fargo mentor to each company, making introductions for them to the appropriate people at Wells Fargo, which has about 90 lines of business. We collaborate with the startups — incubate their idea with our experience and resources. After six months or so, some of them might become our vendors.

These are exciting times. The world is thick with entrepreneurs and college kids who are constantly dreaming up big ideas. We want to meet as many of them as we can.

The deadline for applications for this first program is midnight tonight, Oct. 1. More than 200 startups applied from around the world. See the map below. Details about the spring 2015 program will be announced soon at accelerator.wellsfargo.com. Stay tuned.

Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator applicant locations

About Steve

Ellis is head of Wholesale Services at Wells Fargo, which launched the award-winning Commercial Electronic Office® internet portal in 2000 — the first online banking platform for business customers in financial services.

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Exploring innovation with Wells Fargo Labs

Digital Labs photo app

Hill demonstrates how a customer might use a smartphone to check in and access Wells Fargo systems at a banking store.

Wells Fargo has launched a digital “lab” where we test innovative concepts focused on digital experiences for our customers. It is a place where team members and customers test and learn about new ideas in the making.

Sparking new digital ideas and enabling digital innovation are some of Wells Fargo’s goals.

Why is this so important? The convergence of digital technologies is changing the landscape of every industry. These changes, in turn, are influencing perceptions about financial institutions and financial services.

Millennials are one group that sees financial services transforming in the future. Here are some findings on how millennials feel about managing their finances, according to a recent survey by the Millennial Disruption Index:

  • 68 percent say that in five years, how we access money will be totally different.
  • 70 percent say that in five years, how we pay for things will be totally different.
  • 53 percent don’t think their bank offers anything different than other banks.
  • One in three is open to switching banks in the next 90 days.
  • 73 percent would be more excited about a new offering in financial services from Google, Amazon, Apple, PayPal, or Square than from their bank because they say they believe innovation will come from outside the industry.

Given these changing perceptions, we have a great opportunity to envision new experiences for our customers. We’re exploring:

  • How financial experiences would look across tablets, smartphones, smart watches, Google Glass, and more.
  • Checking account balances on a smart watch.
  • Scanning checks with Google Glass.
  • Scanning price tags to determine if your budget can support a purchase.
Digital Labs demo center

The Wells Fargo Digital Innovation Lab in San Francisco.

One idea we’re piloting in the lab right now is “pre-staging” activities: starting a transaction request (such as a check deposit with cash back, ordering foreign currencies, or sending money overseas) on a mobile device but completing the transaction through another channel.

Many of our customers do their banking through drive-up tellers — in fact, we have more than 4,000 banking stores with drive-up teller lines. The pre-staging pilot is targeted to those customers who use the drive-up teller line. It works like this: Before you approach the teller line, you log in to wellsfargo.com, authenticate yourself, and begin the transaction on your smartphone. Then, you receive a one-time passcode on your phone that identifies you to the Wells Fargo banker. Then the banker can see:

  • Who you are.
  • What type of transaction you’re there to complete.

This approach not only expedites the transaction, but it also provides an efficient way to authenticate customers through a digital device.

About Miranda

Miranda Hill is Wells Fargo’s Digital Labs manager. This year, she was selected as one of “30 Innovators to Watch”  in Bank Innovation magazine’s annual list which recognizes leaders in financial technology.

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Investor optimism up, but market skepticism still a drag

If you Google “risk aversion,” you’ll likely get a definition that sums up the mindset of many U.S. investors. The Wikipedia version reads, “The reluctance to accept a bargain with an uncertain payoff rather than another bargain with a more certain, but possibly lower, expected payoff.”

That’s a fitting description of the findings in our third quarter Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor Optimism and Retirement Index survey.

Investor optimism infographicIn the four years we’ve conducted the research with Gallup, one of the basic questions we’ve always asked is if people think it’s a good time to invest in the financial markets. Despite the investor optimism index score reaching its highest level, +46, since the Great Recession, the response remains roughly split down the middle. This ambivalence is interesting since the S&P 500 is up nearly 200 percent over the 2009 lows following the financial crisis.

Digging a bit deeper in the current survey, we asked if the cautious approach of investors was “wise, because it protects investors from market loss” or “unwise because it prevents investors from realizing significant market gains.”

Sixty percent not only said “wise,” but nearly one-third of investors told us they consciously avoid including stocks in long-term investment accounts. This attitude rose to 42 percent for those with less than $100,000 in invested assets and fell to 20 percent for those with more than $100,000 in invested assets.

Given those results, some words for the wise on investing for retirement:

  1. Sitting on the sidelines is not a strategy. Investing in the market can be beneficial for saving for a long-term goal such as your retirement.
  2. Market timing doesn’t work. You can miss out on the benefits from the rising trends while the downward trends give you the opportunity to buy at a lower cost.
  3. Start with a small percentage from your paycheck. Saving/investing regularly over long periods of time is the best way to grow your assets for retirement.

For more information on retirement and investing, see Managing Your Money in Retirement.

Investor optimism infographic

About Wimbish
Wimbish is the director of Retail Retirement for Wells Fargo and oversees the company’s strategies to help retail customers plan for and live a comfortable retirement.

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Campus Protothon banks on Stanford, UC Berkeley ideas

According to a recent survey we conducted, the Great Recession taught 9 out of 10 millennials the importance of saving. But what’s missing are the simple, personalized, and engaging solutions that help more than 70 million-plus millennial financial services consumers actually begin saving and building long-term financial health.

Who better to help us develop these financial services and bust the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle than millennial consumers themselves? That’s the idea behind our first Campus Protothon Oct. 13 for students from Stanford University and UC Berkeley.

innovation, technology, millennials, California, banking, hackathon, challengeA protothon is a participatory design experience, where people from different backgrounds and skills come together in teams to generate ideas and design “prototype” solutions. Think of the competition as a “code-less” hackathon — a chance to create something amazing from just an idea, with creativity as the only requirement. We’ll empower up to 25 students from each school with tools, knowledge, and support. They’ll bring the ideas to tap online and mobile platforms and revolutionize millennial money management. All currently registered Stanford and UC Berkeley students who are California residents and at least 18 years old as of Oct. 8, 2014, are eligible.*

Getting involved

Attend one of two optional information sessions:

  • UC Berkeley: School of Information, 202 South Hall, Sept. 30, 5-7 p.m. Pacific time
  • Stanford University: Kehillah Hall, 2/F, Koret Pavilion, Oct. 6, 5-7 p.m. Pacific time

From a valid UC Berkeley or Stanford email address, please email CampusProtothon@wellsfargo.com with your name, address, campus information, resume, and — in 500 words or less — a response to the following statement: Tell us what “financial health” means to you and others in your generation. The deadline is 6 p.m. Pacific time Oct. 8. Up to 25 students will be selected from each university according to the Judging Criteria section in the Official Rules. Please email CampusProtothon@wellsfargo.com for the Official Rules.

The Protothon experience

On Oct. 13, we’ll shuttle Protothon participants from Stanford and UC Berkeley to our downtown San Francisco campus. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., they’ll work in teams to solve and present their solutions to a financial health problem.

Wells Fargo leaders will serve as mentors and advisors throughout the day. Winning teams will receive cash prizes ($10,000 first prize, $5,000 second prize), the potential for startup funding through Wells Fargo, and an invitation to attend an Oct. 23 awards ceremony in Silicon Valley with venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and Wells Fargo leaders.

I’m excited about the day and what it will bring because, as Wells Fargo’s millennial segment manager, I see the incredible contributions this generation makes every day at Wells Fargo, across financial services, and around the world.

Believe me, the best is yet to come!

About Alec

Based in San Francisco, Hughes leads Wells Fargo’s efforts to better understand and meet the financial needs of the more than 70 million millennial consumers in the U.S. — the most technologically advanced and educated generation in the nation’s history.

* THIS IS A JUDGED CONTEST. NO ENTRY FEE OR PURCHASE REQUIRED. From a valid UC Berkeley or Stanford email address, email in 500 words or less a response to the following question: tell us what “financial health” means to you and others in your generation.  The deadline is 6 p.m. Pacific time Oct. 8. Up to 25 students will be selected from each university according to the Judging Criteria in the Rules.  Please email CampusProtothon@wellsfargo.com for the Official Rules.

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The philanthropy buzz: Every act matters in Community Support season

Most people are shocked to hear I’m a beekeeper. About six years ago, my wife, Susan, and I started our first colony. We’re avid gardeners and wanted to use honeybees around our house in Minnesota to help fertilize and maintain our three-acre prairie garden of native grasses and wildflowers of yarrow, tall blazing star, purple prairie clover, and joe-pye weed.

Honeybees are small, but their impact isn’t. Their pollination accounts for nearly a third of the food we eat in the U.S., valued at more than $15 billion. Their work ethic fittingly illustrates the spirit and selflessness at work during this Community Support and United Way giving season.

Like beekeeping, everyday actions — in any size — can make a huge difference. At Wells Fargo in 2013, our team members alone contributed more than $89 million and logged 1.69 million volunteer hours to 25,000 nonprofits and schools to continue a long tradition of  team member philanthropy.

Through my beekeeping and support of the University of Minnesota’s new Bee and Pollinator Research Lab, I’d like to think that I’m also doing my small part to strengthen my community — increasing the health of local honeybee populations, and, in turn, protecting our food supply and human health. The lab is researching an issue called Colony Collapse Disorder — the decline of bee populations due to poor nutrition, habitat loss, overuse of pesticides, diseases, and parasites.

I spend a few hours every week tending my five hives, and this past season we harvested 120 pounds of honey. Luckily I don’t get stung often. Despite my close proximity to 250,000 of them, bees usually mind their own business because they have a lot of work to do.

What can you do to help support your community? Maybe it’s planting flowers, growing plants without pesticides, or even starting your own bee colony?

If you’re not already volunteering, consider starting today. You can find opportunities by contacting your local United Way or going online to PointsofLight.org and looking in the HandsOnNetwork section to find the HandsOn volunteer chapter near you.

As honeybees teach us well, many small acts can make a huge difference.

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North Pole Air Conditioning: Wells Fargo Works’ tips grow sales

Lisandro Fernandez head of North Pole Heating and Air Conditioning


Editor’s note: Lisandro Fernandez gives this update about North Pole Air Conditioning and Heating Services, Inc., in Orlando, Fla. — one of five businesses that was awarded $25,000 and professional guidance through the Wells Fargo Works Project video series.

My goal every day is to work hard so I can provide for my family. When I first opened my business, I’d worry that my company wouldn’t survive and I wouldn’t be able to support my family. I’d think, “What if I don’t make enough money this year?” and “What if I lose customers to my competition?”

But I’ve learned that “What ifs?” can go both ways. Today, I sleep better at night because business has taken off as a result of my participation in the Wells Fargo Works Project.

Meet one of the other businesses showcased in the video series on the Wells Fargo Stories website. Created to help others learn from our experience, the series is part of Wells Fargo Works for Small BusinessSM, the company’s commitment to small businesses.

The exposure from the Wells Fargo Works Project boosted sales, added customers, and gave us a presence in social media that we never had before. 2014 is not even over yet, but average monthly sales are more than twice what they were in 2013. My company has also attracted nearly 75 additional residential customers.

As a small businessman, I’ve learned how important marketing is to business success — and making it part of your business plan. The business advisor Wells Fargo provided through the Wells Fargo Works Project identified right away that I needed a marketing campaign to reach existing and potential customers. We immediately got to work and saw some exciting results:

  • 312 visits in July to my new website.
  • 780 Google+ visits to our company page.
  • 211 likes on Facebook — important third-party endorsements for my business in Orlando.
  • Features on the North American Technician Excellence’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

What’s most exciting is that this is just the beginning for my company. The support from Wells Fargo has elevated North Pole Air Conditioning and Heating Services to the next level, and I now have the tools and knowledge to keep the success going. I love what I do and am thankful that I’ve emerged as a more confident business owner ready to take my business to the top!

Where are they now?  Kelly Lester of EasyLunchboxes and Zoey Van Jones, owner of Zoey Van Jones Brow Studio give a blog update on their growing businesses following their participation with the Wells Fargo Works Project.

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5 ways to financially prepare for emergencies

The wildfire closes in on Venditto's Black Forest community.

The wildfire closes in on Venditto’s Black Forest community.

When my husband and I moved to Black Forest, Colorado, one of the first things we noticed was how close the trees were to our house. My husband, a retired firefighter, knew they’d become a highway to destruction in any wildfire, so he cleared the trees from 100 feet around our house.

That fire line saved our house in the massive Black Forest wildfires of 2013, which burned 14,280 acres, killed two people, destroyed 486 homes, and caused $85 million in damages.

The experience revealed some gaps I needed to close to financially prepare for emergencies. When I got the call to evacuate I only had 30 minutes to leave, and I realized I had plenty to learn.

Even though I had spent 13 years at Wells Fargo helping our banking stores prepare for and cope with the aftermath of a host of disasters, I didn’t feel adequately prepared. Here’s my advice to help you be ready:

1. Make a checklist. I only expected to be displaced for one night — not eight — so I just brought some medicine and casual clothes. In hindsight, I should’ve prepared for the worst and brought all of my medications and work clothes, too. If my house had burned down, I would have had to replace nearly all of my personal items. A checklist helps you remember what to bring because, when disaster strikes, you won’t have the time — or the mental clarity — to round up everything.

2. Take photos of irreplaceable items and store them online. This will assist you in gathering up what you can before evacuating, but will also come in handy if you have to make an insurance claim. Can you list everything that’s irreplaceable in your house off the top of your head? Very few people can, which is why it’s important to have photos of the irreplaceable and valuable items in your home. Go from room to room and empty drawers and boxes to snap pictures of family heirlooms or valuable paintings. Better yet, video everything. If you have valuable items, get them appraised before disaster strikes, and make sure you know where jewelry and other valuable items are so you don’t leave them behind.

3. File away important papers. Keep a “go” file in your home that contains every important document that you might need in an emergency. You never know how quickly you’ll have to evacuate. This Wells Fargo Advisors emergency preparedness checklist identifies the papers that you should consider including in your file.

Venditto's home survived because her husband cleared a section of trees around its perimeter.

Venditto’s home survived because her husband cleared a section of trees around its perimeter.

4. Understand your insurance. Luckily, we had more than enough insurance coverage, and I was confident that our insurance would have covered any damage to our home. However, it’s important to have a solid understanding of your insurance policies so that you’re able to recognize any gaps in your coverage before a natural disaster occurs.

5. Keep cash on hand. Sadly, price gouging is rather common in emergencies, which I experienced after the Black Forest wildfires. Many businesses hiked their prices and only accepted cash. Consider keeping a few hundred dollars in cash on hand to see you through if your area loses power or banks and ATMs go offline.

These are some of the lessons I learned when the disaster affected me personally and the flames rolled toward my house. Do you have any you’d add? Have you had a similar experience you’d like to share? Use the “Leave a comment” feature below.

About Donna

A 37-year Wells Fargo veteran, Venditto works for Wells Fargo’s Corporate Properties Group where, as Western Region retail store property director, she oversees the work of property managers assigned to bank locations in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Washington state.


Soldiers to Summits climber reflects before Mount Whitney ascent

Jody Brower.

Jody Brower

Editor’s note: Wells Fargo is sponsoring the 2014 Soldiers to Summits, Mission: Mount Whitney. A program of No Barriers USA, Soldiers to Summits uses mountains as a metaphor and a training ground, to help empower wounded veterans to overcome mental and physical barriers. On the eve of the ascent, summit team member Jody Brower — husband of a Wells Fargo bank branch manager in Garner, North Carolina — shares four life lessons he’s learned while training for the expedition.

Preparing to climb the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States will teach you a lot about life.

I’m one of 13 wounded veterans who will climb California’s Mount Whitney — all 14,505 feet of it — in just a few days. We represent the Air Force, Army, Army National Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps. We represent those with post-traumatic stress, hearing loss, loss of limbs, traumatic brain injuries, partial paralysis, and more. We represent those who have struggled and those who still struggle.

We all wanted to be a part of Soldiers to Summits for our own reasons. And we’re all looking to overcome our own challenges. But I suspect we all knew that the preparation for climbing Mount Whitney would help us climb mountains we need to scale in other areas of our lives.

Jody’s team trains for the Mount Whitney ascent on Colorado’s James Peak.

Jody’s team trains for the Mount Whitney ascent on Colorado’s James Peak.

I believe the lessons I’ve learned so far extend well beyond mountain-climbing and apply to life in general.

  1. Living your life in fear is not living your life at all. I love all things outdoors, but I’ve certainly never climbed a 14,505-foot mountain. It will definitely be a challenge. The weather and terrain will play a factor, and I’m sure we’ll all be more tired than we can imagine. To say we’re working through some fears would be an understatement.

    But we all know that, for as difficult as the climb will be, the feeling of making it to the top will defy words. Life is about walking, (or in our case, climbing), through your fears. It’s about finding your way to the top when the top seems out of reach. Every mountain has a peak. No matter what obstacles we face, if we just keep going, we’ll reach the top. And we’ll be better, stronger people for having done so.

  2. The people on the journey with you can make all the difference. The veterans I’m climbing with are incredible, and are making this experience even more powerful and memorable for me. We work well together. We learn from each other. We cheer each other on. I’ve made friendships that I know will last a lifetime, and I can’t imagine climbing this mountain with anyone else.

    Climbing is a metaphor for the journey of our lives. It’s important to surround ourselves with people who will enrich our lives, encourage us, and root for us. (Meet my Mission: Mount Whitney teammates on the Soldiers to Summits website.)

  3. Lightening someone else’s load can be the game changer that lifts them to the top. One of the best things about this experience so far has been watching everyone help everyone else. We like to push ourselves and push each other. It helps us grow, and helps us to believe in ourselves and each other. We’ve made other, smaller climbs to prepare for Mount Whitney.

    During our climb of Colorado’s James Peak, if one of us was struggling, someone else was right there to see how they could help. If we needed to take gear from someone else’s back to lighten their load, we did that. If we pay attention to the people around us, and offer to take some of the load off, it might be just what they need to make it to the top. And they’ll remember that and lighten our load when we need it, too. (Watch a video on Wells Fargo Stories to hear more about my teammates’ stories and our James Peak training climb.)

  4. The team begins its climb on Sept. 6 and is expected to reach the summit on Sept. 11.

    The team begins its climb on Sept. 6 and is expected to reach the summit on Sept. 11.

  5. Find what brings you peace and remember to draw from it. I feel at home when I’m outdoors. I draw energy from it. I forget about problems and to-do lists, and mistakes. Most of all, I feel an incredible sense of stillness and calm. I imagine that when we all make it to the top of Mount Whitney, I’ll feel all of those things times 100. This experience has served as a powerful reminder for me that we all need to take time to recharge our batteries. We all have to find those things that fill us up and remember to draw from them when we’re feeling down.

I’m looking forward to our entire team making it to the summit, and the life lessons still to come that will help us through this journey and beyond.

Learn more about Wells Fargo’s commitment to military servicemembers and their families.

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Emerging Scholars grad: Clemson program changed my life

Nekedra on the campus of Clemson University.

Nekedra on the campus of Clemson University.

Editor’s note: Since its founding in 2002, the Wells Fargo-supported Emerging Scholars program at Clemson University has created a college-going culture among high school students from three of South Carolina’s poorest counties. Emerging Scholars grad Nekedra Moore shares how in this guest post on the Wells Fargo Blog.

As an accounting major at Clemson University, I know the importance of numbers — and two in particular stand out when I think about the Emerging Scholars program:

  • 7.9. That’s the percentage of adults over age 25 in my county who have a bachelor’s degree.
  • 76. That’s the percentage of students from my high school who graduate each year.

Those numbers are a result of the poverty in an area where interstate highways mean travelers easily can bypass many rural communities and where factory shutterings reflect a shift in manufacturing.

There’s currently not a lot of opportunity there, which is a big problem when you’re a high school student and life’s best opportunities should lie ahead, not behind. Perhaps because of the current state, sadly, many people don’t expect much of themselves or their communities.

And that includes going to college. In Hampton County where I’m from, graduating from high school is the celebrated milestone. My mom, who works for the South Carolina Department of Corrections, went to Columbia College for her criminal justice and HR studies, which puts me in a small group.

The statistics I shared at the beginning tells you just how rare college grads (or people with any college experience) are in my hometown.

Emerging Scholars is changing that culture and the numbers. Consider this: Since retired Navy captain and educator Byron Wiley created the program at Clemson in 2002, 100 percent of the 340 Emerging Scholars grads to date have graduated from high school and 90 percent have gone on to colleges across South Carolina or to officer school and other positions in our military.

There are so many successes but here’s one example: Grad Juree Capers went on to earn a Ph.D. from Texas A&M and is now on the faculty at Georgia Southern.

See the Wells Fargo Stories website for more Emerging Scholars coverage.

Program basics

So what is Emerging Scholars, exactly, and how does it work? Guidance counselors in the five participating high schools help identify promising C and B students with the desire to achieve more and grow personally.

Beginning with the summer of their freshman years, the students selected (an average of about 10 per school) go to college-prep boot camp at Clemson for three consecutive summers — taking courses in art, English, math, science, public speaking, SAT preparation, and other skills. The closer you get to college, the longer the residential program at Clemson is. It starts at one week before your -sophomore year, then lengthens to a two-week stay before your junior year, and then is three weeks long before your senior year.

Once you return home each year, you take continuing education workshops back in the Lowcountry at the University of South Carolina’s Salkahatchie campus in Allendale. Parents have their own college weekend at Clemson and, throughout your Emerging Scholars program years, you visit about a dozen colleges and universities, including a road trip to Atlanta.

Your official college coming out as an Emerging Scholar is the “stoling” ceremony each April. That’s when Amber Lange, the Emerging Scholars program director, gives you a special Emerging Scholars stole to wear at your high school graduation and your college is announced. It’s a proud moment for family, friends, and student alike.

Personal impact

Before Emerging Scholars, I had never seen the Upstate part of my state, which includes Clemson, Greenville, Spartanburg, and other cities.

Nekedra accepts her Program Assistant of the Year Award from the 11th Emerging Scholars class of graduates.

Nekedra accepts her Program Assistant of the Year Award from the 11th Emerging Scholars class of graduates.

My older cousins told me about the program, and I remember seeing their pictures on Facebook and beginning to see myself in their shoes. When I got to the ninth grade, I talked to my guidance counselor, who gave me the program deadlines and when I could fill out an application.

I’m so glad I did. If it wasn’t for Emerging Scholars, I would not be at Clemson today. I’d have never seen the opportunities beyond my town or learned that it’s OK to challenge myself, spread my wings, and leave home.

That first summer at Clemson, I felt like I did more work in one week than I had done in a whole year back at home, and I had access to technology and other resources for the first time that many students of better funded school districts had enjoyed for years.

Through Emerging Scholars, I’ve made so many connections with people at Wells Fargo who have had successful careers in banking. And working as an Emerging Scholars program assistant (think a camp counselor) the last two years at Clemson, I’ve learned I have a passion for working with youth. This year, campers voted me the woman “PA of the Year” this year.

The experience has helped me realize how many children there are who need guidance and someone to push and motivate them, too. From the time you step off the first bus here in Clemson the summer after your freshman year in high school until you graduate from the program, the talk is all about college and what you can be.

Where you’re from and all the talents you bring are just a starting point in your journey and not the destination.

However I use my math, accounting, people and mentoring skills, I hope I can have the same kind of influence on others that so many have had on me through Emerging Scholars. I’m already giving back and doing my best to help other kids walking the halls of Wade Hampton dream big, reach high and know people believe in them.

You can do great things!

To learn more about Emerging Scholars, visit clemsonemergingscholars.org.

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