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When young people think about investing, 17-year-old Omkar Upadhye doesn’t want them to think of The Wolf of Wall Street. 

“What I like to focus on is building wealth for common people,” Upadhye says. “Normal people need to get into investing because it’s a way to build wealth. If you’re not making money off of your own money, you’re losing money.”

Upadhye, a senior at Ravenwood High School, first became interested in investing in middle school. He learned quickly that there weren’t many resources around for young kids trying to increase their knowledge around finances. He was doing research for his AP Research class at Ravenwood when he found that Tennesseeans had a 17 percent lower financial literacy score than the national average. He decided that he would use his knowledge to teach his peers about financial health. 

Through a club at the school and clubs at the Brentwood Public Library and Nashville Public Library, Upadhye has shown around 1,150 students how best to keep and grow the money they earn. In these clubs, students engage in hands-on paper trading competitions, financial literacy lessons and learn from other business professionals. 

“What prompted me to start them at libraries was really the fact that we could get middle school aged kids there, kids I was aiming to reach,” Upadhye says. “That’s when kids I worked with tended to learn the most and that’s when they’re most able to apply the knowledge into the future. I wanted to be able to take  them from hearing about investing to understanding how to be financially literate.”

Upadhye has a passion for helping others in general: He took up tennis to help his little brother Dhruv make the middle school team. He is a soccer referee and loves to ride his bike. But often he says he’s thinking about the future and how to help more young people.

One tool Upadhye says he uses to gain fellow young folks’ attention is by utilizing buzzwords or current trends to get them interested initially.

“Sometimes the light bulb moments happen when you have, for example, a student who is really interested in real estate and had heard about how to use real estate for tax write-offs,” Upadhye says. “Sometimes someone has a small shred of knowledge and I like to help them understand where that fits in overall with their finances. One piece of information can be a stepping stool for anyone.”

Upadhye was selected as a Bank of America 2021 Student Leader and is among just 300 people in the country selected for their internship program. For the internship, he worked with the Nashville nonprofit The Oasis Center where he learned a lot about scalability for his courses and about building a curriculum. He hopes to build his clubs and expand into other communities in Tennessee and maybe nationally.

“I tend to focus on lessons that capture the interest of the middle schoolers, things like crypto, but this internship has helped me add more core investing elements into my course and now when I decide to expand into even more libraries in Tennessee, I know how to finalize a lesson plan before I go in and start teaching.”

Upadhye says the one thing he tries to get students to understand is that learning about financial literacy will help them in every aspect of their life.

“So it seems like common sense when you say you should earn more than you spend,” Upadhye says, laughing, “But it’s harder to do than it seems and once someone realizes how life changing knowing where their money goes can be, they get into it more. They’re like ‘hey, I can really use this in my real life. I am capable of learning this and using it.’” 

Even if students don’t continue to use investing in everyday life, he hopes students take their financial literacy skills forward. But more than that, he hopes to pass along this bit of wisdom.

“I just try to live my life in a way where I don’t waste an opportunity,” Upadhye says. “If you don’t apply yourself, you will never know what you’re capable of. Don’t be shy about the things you love and want to do.”