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News & Events

From Helmand Province to Human Ecology

Marine Corps Veteran Timothy James (TJ) Larson didn’t know he wanted a career in personal finance, he simply thought of himself as a “money nerd who likes helping people.”

Larson (BS Personal Finance expected May 2016) was raised in a family where conversations around managing money were part of everyday life. “I grew up setting my own goals,” says TJ.  “I always liked the independence that comes from managing my own finances.”

After high school he attended Milwaukee Area Technical College and received an associates’ degree in automotive technology. But Larson grew restless, looking for more he enlisted in the Marines, became proficient in Arabic, deployed to Afghanistan, and was assigned to logistics.

Returning home after a five-year tour of duty, including an assignment to Helmand Province, Larson began to notice people asking him for help in managing their finances. “They saw that I wasn’t going out, spending all my money,” said TJ. “They were asking me for advice how to manage their paycheck, create a budget, and set goals.”

Drawing on a passion for helping people and being a “money nerd”, Larson rolled up his sleeves and got to work. “Preparing for deployment I had a car loan, a motorcycle loan and savings account. I wanted to be sure my debts were paid off, my money was going to the right places.  I was definitely in the minority in my unit [to have a plan].” Pre-deployment is very stressful, according to TJ, with plenty of education but “nothing [specifically] about managing finances.”

After a brief period of exploration, Larson knew he’d found his purpose. “Putting together a plan, building it with someone, and how that could transition to a career, I could do that with the School of Human Ecology.”

Larson feels right at home in the Personal Finance program, despite being the oldest student in class. At 29-years old, he has approached this chapter of education with the same precision and focus as moving a convoy across Afghanistan.  “I am very invested because this is the path to my career goal, and it makes me more driven,” states TJ.

For the final semester he is working as a peer educator in the Financial Life Skills class, a real-world experience helping undergraduate students succeed with their financial goals. “TJ is an extraordinary leader as a Peer Educator,” states Linda Lepe, Director of the Consumer Finance and Financial Planning Program. “He has a calm demeanor that translates well with students and the other Peer Educators. They trust him because he projects confidence and compassion.”

Ask Larson what’s the biggest difference coming to the SoHE as a returning adult? “How young the students look!”


The Peer Educator program gives students real and practical experience by helping fellow students achieve their financial goals. Annual gifts provide immediately available discretionary funds to support student experiences, like the Peer Educator program.  Your support will make a significant impact to help today’s Badgers become be the leaders of tomorrow.