Tatiana’s Story: Building Success Through Capital One’s Student-Run Banking Program

Tatiana Fowler

Growing up in New York, Tatiana Fowler never dreamed she would work in a professional setting. In her teen years she had her eye on becoming an award-winning actress. But after completing Capital One's student-banking program at the Theodore Roosevelt Educational Campus, she realized she needed to explore her career options before setting her sights on Hollywood.

"I still want to be on television one day," says the spunky 25-year-old, "but right now I have to pay the rent."Fowler is currently working at the online search service, Yelp, as an account executive under the company's sales and advertising umbrella. Prior to taking the job with Yelp, Fowler worked as a stylist for a Fifth Avenue fashion brand, helping style some of the rich and famous. "I want to return to fashion but I want to be more on the corporate or creative side of the business," Fowler says.

As a freshman in high school, Fowler was uncertain about school. She was raised in Manhattan with her maternal grandmother until her grandmother passed away and she was sent to foster care in the Bronx. She lived in five foster homes officially and 10 unofficially.

"That always threw me off," she says of foster care. "Not being able to call any place home was difficult. It was a challenge."

She would do okay in school but would get derailed when there was any type of personal problem in her life. "I didn't think I needed school because I wanted to be an actress," she says. "I wasn't the best student but my teachers told me I had promise."

Fowler had heard about the student-banking program but didn't think she would be a good candidate. Her guidance counselor at West Bronx Academy for the Future suggested she reconsider. "I thought ‘this is just for a smart kid that can balance school and extracurricular activities,'" Fowler says of the program.

She decided to treat her interview with Capital One like an audition. "I thought to myself, ‘I have to do something extraordinary to get this,'" she says, adding that she did a short, funny improvisational skit. "They thought it was funny. That's the one thing I thought would set me apart."

Being accepted into the program gave her hope that she could start over, learn a skill and possibly think about college. While she was training in the program during the summer she heard from friends vacationing at the beach. She had to remind herself that there were perks to working and making money. "It was the first time I could buy school clothes and I got what I wanted," she says. "I wasn't always in a position to have an allowance. This gave me freedom I wasn't privy to before."

Working as a student ambassador helped Fowler become more conscientious. It gave her the courage to look at who she was and who she wanted to be. She decided she wanted to go to college to try to "better myself," she says. "Capital One made me see that."

The program gave her experience and "kept me straight," she says. "I learned how to express myself without being disrespectful. It gave me the ability to do better and find out what I want to be and map that out."She began to realize there were things in her life she couldn't control but she could control others. "I told myself you can't help where you live, but you can get to work on time," she says. "The program made me more accountable and conscientious about the things I can control."

Visiting the New Jersey Institute of Technology with the program changed her way of thinking about college. "I thought this could happen. This is what I can do," she says, adding that she graduated from Cazenovia College in the central New York region with a major in business management and a specialization in fashion merchandising.

Charting the right course

Capital One is one of several banks with student-run branch programs that not only teach students about financial management but also provide them with life skills training.

The Theodore Educational Roosevelt Campus where Fowler worked was the first branch in Capital One's program, opening in 2007. The program now has four student-run branches that also include West Side High School in Newark, Thurgood Marshall Academy in Harlem and Parkdale High School in Prince George's County, Md.

"These are real branches, regulated by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency," says LaKia Williams who has managed the student-run banking program since its inception. "The students run the branch, which is open for all students at the school. They also teach financial literacy to other students."

Most of the student-run branches are located in schools that lack educational resources and often have low graduation rates.

The stories of the students are "compelling," says Sally Proto market executive in retail and direct banking, who has operational oversight of the Parkdale High School branch in Riverdale, Maryland. "These kids at a very young age are dealing with things most of us never have to worry about. For me, working with them in this program is the best part of my job. Every year I get to start with a new class and watch them grow and go from kids to young adults."

Students are recruited during their junior year and go through a rigorous interview process that includes first- and second-round interviews. Capital One looks for students that show potential but lack opportunities. They come from all academic backgrounds from A students to students on the verge of failing and need a second chance. "We have had some students that were struggling with their grades and end up on the Honor Roll, and some we were able to help get into schools offering strong financial packages," Proto says.

Students receive in-class training before working in the bank's traditional branches, applying what they've learned with actual customers as they work side-by-side with branch ambassadors.

Training is provided in leadership, professionalism and managing and accepting differences. At the beginning of August, students spend a week at the New Jersey Institute of Technology learning about leadership, financial markets and institutions, as well as team building.

"It helps motivate them to jump start the college application process," says Williams. "Some students that didn't consider college are now going to college."

 In fact, 90 percent of students that have gone through the program go to college."Over the last couple of years, we have had an influx of students joining the military after they graduate from high school," says Williams. "This is a life-changing experience."

In addition to working at Yelp, Fowler was part of starting a podcast about hip-hop with one of her friends from college. "Before the program, I never saw myself in a work setting or being part of a team," she says. "I was carelessly thinking I could do this by myself. The program got me into serious talks with myself. I thought ‘if I don't change what I am doing now, I won't be able to do what I want to do.'"

Fowler is now contemplating graduate school. "Everything I do now is practice or rehearsal to showcase what I am about," she says. "Student banking put me on the right course."

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