For many college students, Instagram is a social media platform that serves as a place for entertainment and photo-sharing.
However, accounting professor Parveen Gupta sees Instagram as a resource with untapped educational potential to help inform younger audiences through a familiar format.
After grading the second test of the semester, Gupta offered his Introduction to Financial Accounting students an opportunity to get points back toward their grades: all they had to do was follow him on Instagram @personalfinancedoc_.
“It’s up to you how you use (Instagram),” Gupta said. “If you’re only just posting pictures, that’s fun, but there’s only so much you can do. I think there are a lot of sites on Instagram where a lot of knowledge is.”
Combining this information source with accrued years of teaching knowledge, Gupta started his Instagram account to increase accessibility and understanding about personal finances for students.
“As a teacher, I know how to explain the concepts,” Gupta said. “And I don’t really need to invent new material. Personal finance is not something that intellectual capital is not out there for. It’s a question of how you can bring it to the level of a 22-year-old and say ‘This is what it means, and this is what you may want to do.’”
Gupta said with help from students, he has learned to use graphic design tool Canva to create posts covering personal finance topics including taxes, credit card payments, stocks, inflation and savings plans.
Isabelle O’Brien, ‘24, a teaching assistant for Gupta’s Introduction to Financial Accounting class, said she finds the account helpful because she thinks there’s a lack of personal finance curriculum taught in high school and college.
“I’m graduating next year, and I don’t know how to pay my taxes, I don’t know where to save my money, I don’t know any of that,” O’Brien said. “His Instagram account actually teaches it, and it’s not just like you’re searching it someplace random. He’s a reputable person who knows what he’s talking about.”
Gupta said it is common to struggle with personal finances as a young adult.
According to his first post, 25% of Americans say they don’t have someone they can ask for trusted financial guidance, and 65% of Americans do not know how much money they spend in a month, with Generation Z specifically being the generation least likely to know.
Gupta said his son, a Lehigh graduate, often calls him to ask for financial advice because he is a robotic surgeon who never studied a business-related field.
Because he understands the lack of guidance available to many students, in each post Gupta encourages his followers to message or email him if they have questions.
As a self-proclaimed lifelong learner, Gupta said his Instagram account is a way of evolving to best suit the needs of his students.
This approachable and student-centered teaching method is different from the one Gupta experienced himself.
Growing up in India, he said his teachers were rigid and formal.
When he first became a Lehigh professor in 1987, he followed a similar style. He said he would not joke or laugh and had a very formal relationship with his students.
As the years went on, he found the need to adjust his teaching style to reflect the new class coming in each year.
“Today, people learn differently than the students I had 35 years ago,” Gupta said. “Value systems change, perspectives change, use of technology changes, so most of the time I think I’m getting older while my students stay the same age.”
He said he has learned to break down the wall between himself and his students while still remaining professional.
O’Brien said this personalized relationship Gupta has learned to develop with students sets him apart.
“Anyone who knows him knows he’s so much more than just a professor,” O’Brien said. “He’s full of wisdom. If you need something, he usually has an answer. Even if no one can answer it, he can.”
This ability to form deeper connections led Gupta to fill various roles across campus, one of them being the academic advisor for the Gamma Phi Beta sorority.
Gupta said he took the position in 2019 when one of the six members of the sorority in his class approached him about it.
Not knowing anything about Greek life, he said he was initially hesitant. After curiously accepting the role, Gupta said he didn’t want to just be an advisor in name, but he wanted to do something beneficial.
Francesca Orsini, ‘23, a member of Gamma Phi Beta, said Gupta regularly holds financial information sessions and resume-building workshops with the sorority.
She said many of the women in the sorority have developed a close bond with Gupta, going to him for guidance about career or personal concerns. She said he treats his students “as his own children.”
She said the whole sorority follows his Instagram.
“It’s a safe space, and I think that’s why he’s doing it,” Orsini said. “He explains some more basic concepts, but if you’re not in the business school or going out of your way to research it, you wouldn’t know. I think he wants people to have a starting place.”
In addition to basic information, Gupta addresses social-based economic topics that affect his students.
During National Women’s History Month in March, Gupta made several posts dedicated specifically to finances in relation to women. In these, he addressed issues like gender discrimination and the wage gap.
Gupta said his goal is for every Lehigh student to follow his account or to at least know there are resources available to them.
“Everybody, I think, yearns to leave a print, to make an impact,” he said. “But I think we professors are in a very unique opportunity to really impact many lives if we want to.”