Ron Lewis (FIN ’17) says the biggest misconception kids have about money is that it will fix their problems. “They say, ‘If I just had $5,000, everything will be better.’ It won’t. Money doesn’t solve problems. You have to look at the bigger picture,” he said.
He saw this first-hand teaching middle school math in St. Louis through Teach for America and now as a part of The Academy Group, which exposes young people from underserved communities to economics, entrepreneurship, design thinking, technology, and justice.
Lewis is a project manager at the group’s Academy Chicago and Amplify Chicago. The Academy works with black and Latinx students to close the “opportunity gap” by partnering with corporations to create internship opportunities. Amplify builds professional pathways for youth 18 to 24 years old to transition them from the criminal justice system to full-time employment. Lewis also works with A.M. Money, which offers students affordable loans without a co-signer. He believes education alone won’t solve the many challenges these students face.
“Business, government, and educators need to build upon each other’s expertise. Education isn’t an isolated problem, and it doesn’t have a singular solution,” said Lewis.
Lewis learned this lesson when he was student body president his senior year at the University of Illinois. Recently changed bylaws meant he could block student government from keeping control of a project, the “It’s On Us” initiative, which combats sexual assault on college campuses.
“I knew we could grow it bigger and reach more people if we opened it up to partners. I lost friends over it, but I knew it was the right thing to do,” said Lewis, who went on to earn his master’s in education from the University of Missouri, St. Louis earlier this year.
Lewis had a less conventional career path at Gies. A summer internship in his freshman year at PwC left him questioning whether he was headed in the right direction. A mentor, Michael Harden (MBA ’09), helped set him straight. Lewis was proud of all he had accomplished, but when he shared his resume, Harden challenged him.
“He said, ‘All this looks good on paper, but it doesn’t mean you’re a good person. Who do you want to be?’“ Lewis recalled. Going forward, he challenged himself to find a path that felt true to his priorities and included his entrepreneurial spirit and love for education – from both an administrative and teaching perspective.
There to help was Gies College of Business’ Office of Undergraduate Affairs. Lewis recalled: “I worked there all four years of college, and they literally became like family. Advisors Tim Flanagan and Jeff Headtke helped me figure out my academics and a career path that worked for me. Assistant Dean Jewell White and many others always pushed me to aim high.” And, most importantly, when he was a few credits shy his senior year, they helped him graduate on time.
“Success happens when you put belief in yourself ahead of belief in a single company or industry. Most people can’t see past their current job, and they equate success with that,” said Lewis. “If you accept how much you don’t know, study trends, and reach out to connect with people with other perspectives, you can be part of something bigger and make a bigger impact. That’s what I’m aiming to do.”
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