Kenneth J. White
Athens, Ga. – Kenneth White learned the value of education from his mother, a secretary for the Detroit public schools who challenged him to excel.
He learned the value of a dollar from his father, a technician for Michigan Bell with a penchant for maximizing limited resources.
“He would always tell me ‘Make sure you save some money!” White said, smiling at the memory.
Looking back, those dual influences had a profound impact on White’s career path.
After an early adulthood that saw White hold positions from high school math teacher to tax accountant to IRS agent, he was hired as an assistant professor in the department of financial planning, housing and consumer economics within the College of Family and Consumer Sciences in 2016.
White’s chief interests, appropriately enough, include retirement planning, budgeting and taxes, as well as issues involving diversity and inclusion within the growing financial planning industry.
White said his upbringing in Detroit, with its large African-American population and issues related to poverty, also informed his research interests.
“Understanding how families in those situations could improve their resource management and their financial well-being has shaped the things I want to research,” White said. “That lived experience has been valuable for me.”
Equally valuable, particularly in the classroom, has been White’s varied work experience. White has held positions at large institutions such as Vanguard, Chrysler and the test prep company Kaplan, in addition to working with the IRS.
“Just being able to relate information we are covering in class to my own lived experience has been really valuable,” White said. “I try to use every opportunity I can to let the students know that this is not just so you can pass the next exam – it’s something you’re actually going to have to do.”
Of particular interest among his students, White said, are stories of his time with the IRS.
“Auditing self-employed individuals and small businesses, you get some wild stories,” he said, laughing.
Teaching has become a passion, White said, particularly since he recently completed UGA’s Active Learning Institute, the Service-Learning Fellows Program and the Lilly Teaching Fellowship.
“I like the engagement with the students and I feel an obligation to do my very best with them,” he said. “I enjoy working with the grad students on research and especially when the research involves how we can be better in the classroom.”
Another of White’s passions involves addressing the “big diversity gap” within the financial planning field. According to a recent survey by the CFP® Board Center for Financial Planning, less than 4 percent of the 80,000 Certified Financial Planners in the United States are black or Latino.
White recently received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Connections program to explore factors related to financial stress and interventions that lessen the effects of financial stress, including the role racial differences may play in those stressors.
While his role comes with great responsibility, White said, it’s one he embraces.
“Clearly we need to do something to help close that diversity gap,” he said. “One of the ways you can effect change is by having somebody at the front of the classroom who looks like the students you want to attract. Another thing we can do is make sure that our African-American students are great job candidates.”
For Michael Thomas, an African American and lecturer in the department, White’s accomplishments have served as an inspiration.
“To navigate this process and achieve what Dr. White has achieved is very encouraging and fills me with a sense of hope,” Thomas said. “To have someone of whom I can say ‘If he did it and came from where I come from and experienced some of the same things I did and persevered, I can do the same,’ is incredibly important. He has shown me that it matters that I finish.”