Shannon Wiersbitzky: Author and Champion of Financial Literacy

According to family legend, Shannon was born with a day planner in one hand. These days that planner is always full. In the early morning, when the rest of the world is still sleeping, Shannon Wiersbitzky writes children’s literature. Her first novel, The Summer of Hammers and Angels, was published in July 2011 by namelos. Her second novel, What Flowers Remember, is due out in 2013.

During the week, Shannon is the Head of Institutional Marketing for Vanguard. In addition to her executive role, she also leads a program called My Classroom Economy ( which enables teachers to create a mini-economy in their classrooms and teach children key life skills through experiential learning. Both inside and outside of work, Shannon is involved in efforts designed to increase the number of women getting their MBAs and ultimately attain corporate leadership positions.

I was so happy to meet Shannon at the SCBWI NJ conference. Once I found out she was not only a writer, but had brain for math as well, I knew we needed to interview her here. Keep reading to find out more about this wordsmith number cruncher!

If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be? Ditch the long hair sooner! (grin)

Actually, I’d sit my younger self down and say, “Never doubt your abilities. EVER.” I’ve spoken to lots of women, of all ages, and it seems we all have this annoying voice in our heads that says, “Maybe you’re not ______ enough.” Just fill in the blank….smart, thin, talented, driven, creative, loud, beautiful. We’ve all heard it, no matter where we are in our life or our career. When we don’t quiet that voice, it can cause us to miss the most wonderful opportunities. I try to remind myself that all the time, and then I remind other women as well. A little bit of encouragement can go a long way.

Great advice! (Except for ditching the long hair. Ha! My mom cut off all of my hair when I was five and it hasn’t been short since!) Your creative side shows in your writing, like your debut novel, The Summer of Hammers and Angels, which was a Crystal Kite finalist. (Hooray!) But  I bet your nerdy side shows in your writing too. What kind of research do you do for your novels? I definitely Google! For Hammers, I researched home building. I had stacks of pages and images that walked through each step. I also explored lightning, to better understand what it can and can’t do when it strikes. For me, research is fun. Is this my nerdy side showing?

While everything I learn doesn’t get used directly, it all impacts my thought process and therefore, helps shape the story. Sometimes I research one particular topic and happen to stumble upon something else that is exactly right for a story. I love when that happens. Plus, I learn so many interesting things!

Besides research, what’s something you like to do that might be considered a tiny bit nerdy, but is actually really fun? So I asked my husband what I do that’s nerdy and at first he couldn’t come up with anything. I felt flattered for about two seconds. Then he warmed up and I could hardly keep him quiet. Here is the one I agreed with most. I’m a total PowerPoint nerd. Taking information and turning it into something visual that can be easily understood? Love. It. Then sometimes I come home and talk (and talk and talk apparently) about my fabulous reports. Let’s just say my family doesn’t always appreciate PowerPoint the way I do.

Growing up, I was always the girl that loved science and math. In college I majored in Economics and was thrilled to talk about supply and demand curves. I’m sure there’s more than one person out there who thinks that’s nerdy too. But I loved it.

It sounds like you had a healthy, happy, nerdy past! Do you ever give nerdy traits to any of your characters? I honestly never think of characteristics as being nerdy or not. In Hammers, the main character, Delia, is good at math and has excellent penmanship, which some might consider nerdy traits. I think we need all types of characters, in books and in life, to make everything more interesting.

One thing about you that is both nerdy and wonderful, is that you are involved in establishing programs to help students achieve financial literacy. Can you tell us more about this? Sure! I initiated and lead a wonderful program at Vanguard called My Classroom Economy. Designed for grades K-12, it’s free to teachers and students, and enables any classroom to implement a mini-economy. Students each have classroom jobs that earn them a salary. They can also earn bonuses for great schoolwork. Students pay bills, including rent for their desk, and have to track everything using a budget. Savers have the opportunity to pay off their “mortgage” and spend money at monthly classroom auctions. If they save enough, they can even buy other desks and earn rent themselves.

As students get older, their bills become more complex. In middle school the program also introduces insurance and in high school, students can even invest their classroom dollars – picking one of five basic stock and bond allocations – and then watch it grow over the course of more than 30 years.

What I like most is that the entire program is experiential. Kids learn by doing and have fun in the process. The program also provides connections to the Common Core State standards, which is critical for teachers, as well as the National Standards in K-12 Personal Finance Education develop by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

I love the idea of this program. As a former teacher, I can absolutely see the value in it. Why do you think teaching financial literacy is important to our country?  Most states don’t require any financial education to graduate high school. If the subject isn’t brought up at home (and studies have shown parents find it easier to talk to their kids about drugs than money), kids can leave school not having even basic habits that can help them achieve financial success. It all starts with the ability to organize and track a budget, plan for future expenses, and delay gratification.

In the long run, as young adults, these same kids can find themselves with significant credit card debt, mortgages they can’t afford, and no real savings for retirement. We have to start early, so that by the time they begin earning a paycheck, the mindset of spending less than you earn, and saving the rest, is already a habit.

Can you share a success story about your work with these programs? My Classroom Economy is currently being used by schools around the country. We’re hearing from teachers that their students are really enjoying it. We recently saw this video from North Carolina, which does a great job of capturing the energy that is created in the classroom as well as the learning for the kids.

I hope your program continues to grow! And we look forward to your new book coming out in 2013. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with Nerdy Chick Rules!

Shannon lives in Malvern, Pennsylvania with her husband, two sons, and four fish. She is hoping Santa brings her a new dog. You can find out more about Shannon by following the links below.

Giveaway Bonus! Shannon is giving away paperback copy of her first book, The Summer of Hammers and Angels. It is super-easy to enter. Just leave a comment below between now and November 30! This giveaway is open to residents of the United States and Canada.


Connect: Shannon Wiersbitzky’s Author page

Read: Handy link to Amazon

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My Classroom Economy: