In high school, Linda Barg used a personal finance app called Mint to budget the money she made from her part-time job at Bunz Burger in Ipswich, Mass. She took classes on stock market investing and international business. She researched money management in her spare time.
“I wanted to be able to support myself financially at a young age,” says Barg, who got her first credit card as soon as she turned 18. “I had this push to be financially secure.”
The force behind that push began years earlier. When Barg was 4, she and her infant brother, Ian, were removed from their parents’ home by the Department of Children and Families and placed in the state’s foster care system. They bounced between foster homes for the next two years, hoping to be adopted.
Just as Barg began to give up hope, she and her brother were placed with a family in Ipswich. Three years later, they were officially adopted. In the movies, that’s when the credits would roll and the house lights would come up. But it wasn’t that simple for Barg.
“I always felt different and kind of alone through elementary, middle and high school,” says Barg, whose Mexican-Cuban descent made it difficult for her to blend in to a small town that’s close to 95 percent white. “When you’re growing up, all you want to do is be liked and fit in. So that was really the hardest thing for me.”
Barg decided she needed a new perspective. So as a high school junior, she applied for a month-long volunteer service trip to Ghana with an organization called Global Leadership Adventures. That summer, she taught English, science and math to more than 40 grade-school kids in the West African nation. She also helped build two new classrooms.
“It was a reality check,” she says. “I realized how blessed I am to be where I was.”
Four years later, Barg finds herself immersed in the Manning School of Business, where she’s a junior majoring in business administration with concentrations in finance and marketing. She’s also minoring in economics, an interest born from her experience in Ghana. All of her tuition and fees have been covered so far by a state program for adopted children.
Barg actually didn’t know much about the university when she applied, other than that it was close enough to home to be there for her brother whenever needed.
“We went through so much together, and it was important to stay close,” says Barg, who still found it hard to leave for college. “I cried during orientation. I wasn’t sure of my path.”
She began finding her way when she attended her first Finance Society meeting as a freshman. By her second semester, she was the club’s head of marketing; by her junior year, she was its president.
“My No. 1 goal was to make the club approachable for everyone, from freshmen to seniors,” says Barg. She arranged for Jeanne D'Arc Credit Union, where she works part-time as a teller, to give workshops on credit scores and financial literacy. Nearly 100 students showed up to hear alumni talk about their work at Cox Capital Management. The club is heading to New York City in April to visit alumni working on Wall Street.
“I’m blown away by how many opportunities I’ve had here, and I want to give the same opportunity to others,” says Barg, who met Warren Buffett in Omaha, Neb., and represented the Manning School at the Institute of Management Accountants’ student leadership conferences in Houston and Detroit. She credits Dean Sandy Richtermeyer for making so many of the opportunities possible.
Through the Professional Co-op Program, Barg also gained seven months of real-world experience at MFS Investment Management in Boston her sophomore year. Working as an identity management co-op, she was responsible for giving employees access to applications such as Changepoint through the company’s virtual private network (VPN).
“It was more IT-related, but I’m so glad I chose it, because I was able to touch every part of the company,” she says. “I would be on the phone with people in Sydney, or helping the VP of Finance with tasks on applications. It was not getting coffee and running errands. I was vital to the team.”
Barg has already packed so much into her first three years at the university, and she still has her entire senior year ahead of her.
“My biggest thing now is helping other students grow,” she says. “I realize how lucky I am because I’m able to help others through my experiences. I try to be someone people can look up to when they’re struggling.
“I fell in love with UMass Lowell,” she adds. “If I’d taken any other path, I might not have been able to make a difference, to make my footprint, as much as I do here.”