How friendship and finance bloom at Wharton’s Stevens Center

Sindi Banaj and Maryem Bouatlaoui bonded in friendship as they collaborated on a college finance app built by high school students, for high school students.

Sindi Banaj and Maryem Bouatlaoui became best friends in high school, but the Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance is where they became leaders.

Before enrolling at the Wharton School, the two women were among other underrepresented teens from Philadelphia area high schools, both competitively selected to work as interns on a special project at the Center.

Sindi Banaj (left) and Maryem Bouatlaoui (right) with Gillian Bazelon (seated).
Wharton students Sindi Banaj (left) and Maryem Bouatlaoui (right) with Gillian Bazelon (seated), Wharton senior associate director. (Image: Courtesy of The Stevens Center)

Their assignment? Building an app from scratch.

The app is a loan debt calculator designed to help college-bound students figure out the real-life costs of borrowing to pay for school and how that debt will follow them into the future. Users can calculate their financial risk by simulating scenarios they may encounter after graduation—not completing the degree while still owing money, not getting a high-paying job, buying a house, and other situations.

The app was conceived by Wharton finance professor and center director David Musto as a project that could serve the Philadelphia community. About 35 to 40 high school juniors and seniors have worked on it since last year, with some staying on longer than others. Wharton senior associate director Gillian Bazelon recruited all the interns in the program, and said Banaj and Bouatlaoui have been standouts among their peers because of their growth and leadership.

Banaj and Bouatlaoui credit their work at the Stevens Center for strengthening their friendship. Not only did it give them a reason to meet up regularly since they live in opposite directions of the city, but it also helped them understand each other better.

“It came naturally. I never saw it as a competition between us,” Banaj said. “We saw it as an opportunity to grow and to improve our skills.”

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