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Financial Literacy Educator Receives UW Extension’s Top Honor

December 21, 2020
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Michelle Vigil

An educator who provides financial literacy education to the state’s residents has received the University of Wyoming Extension’s top honor.

Michelle Vigil, who is based in Campbell County and serves northeast Wyoming, received the organization’s Jim DeBree Award. The award is named in honor of the retired Wyoming extension administrator and given to those who demonstrate a high level of professionalism, performance and leadership within their program areas and communities.

“Making unwise money decisions can alter one’s life for the worse,” says Mary Martin, an extension community development educator based in Teton County and a nominator. “Michelle’s specialty area is providing financial literacy education with resources.”

Vigil, who joined UW Extension five years ago as a community development educator, teaches a variety of money classes and also provides individual coaching. Her financial literacy programming continues to expand in northeast Wyoming.

In 2018-19, Vigil helped 451 people in her counties with financial literacy classes, counseling and coaching sessions.

She has worked to increase the depth and scope of extension programming in northeast Wyoming, says Vicki Hayman, an extension educator based in Weston County.

“She develops, delivers and evaluates her programs with success,” Hayman says. “She utilizes various teaching formats to meet the needs of her clientele. She is committed to exceeding clientele expectations.”

Vigil’s financial literacy team received a grant in 2017 for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s (FDIC) Master Money Coach Program to offer the ongoing statewide train-the-trainer course to assist clients anywhere in the state with money basics.

This year, the program was one of four FDIC national award winners from 50 states.

COVID-19 was instrumental in extension community development educators designing a Money Matters Series for Facebook Live. Vigil was one of three presenters.

As a financial coach, Vigil serves as a facilitator, supporting clients as they set their goals and plans, Martin says.

“It is a collaborative process and requires active listening, various strategies to assist clients, and systems and frameworks,” Martin says. “Counseling interaction revolves around remedial, preventive and/or productive issues.”

Topic areas include setting goals, maximizing income, spending, saving, borrowing and protecting one’s money.

Vigil also demonstrates the ability to collaborate with various agencies.

Her programming includes board training and assisting nonprofit organizations in strategic planning, says Kimberly Fry, an extension 4-H educator in Campbell County.

“She excels in partnering with local agencies for scholarships, first-time homebuyers, lawyers and the Department of Workforce Services,” Fry says.

Vigil also served as county coordinator for the Campbell County office.

She has completed a 46-hour leadership development program through the Peregrine Leadership Institute that will assist her in creating a leadership institute within a Wyoming county.

In 2019, she completed two online classes through Texas Tech University to obtain an accredited financial counselor certification through the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education. The classes included personal finance and debt counseling. This certification has a practicum portion to complete, which consists of 1,000 hours of financial counseling experience.

“Financial literacy is very important to our society, as indicated by our current stakeholders’ reports throughout the state,” Martin says. “Being financially stable and making wise money decisions lead to a higher quality of life for an individual. Stable individuals create stable communities.”

“Not only has Michelle been an invaluable asset to extension, she has been an integral component of continuing a tradition of great service,” Hayman says.

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