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HHS grad rides Millennial Train for internship study

Kolodziej is pictured in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Sean Kolodziej was one of 25 young adults selected to participate in a new project focused on personal development and projects that pull from communities across the nation.

Kolodziej, a 2011 Hastings High School graduate, is studying finance at North Dakota State University. He was led to the field after taking a strengths-finder assessment last fall, which showed him he has a particular skill with math and numbers. So he decided to study finance, and last summer, got an internship with Affinity Plus Credit Union in St. Paul.

Kolodziej and the two other interns at the credit union were each given a research project. One focused on auto loans and one was on payment methods. Kolodziej’s focus was financial literacy, which would ultimately help the Affinity better educate people from the Millennial generation – roughly those ages 18 to 30.

Affinity had set up a special way for Kolodziej to do his research. The Millennial Trains Project is a new non-profit organization that put 25 young adults on a train while hearing from distinguished mentors and leaders, developing leadership skills and conduct projects in communities across the nation.

“The fact that the trip itself was housed on vintage train cars was an experience in itself,” he said. “The trip would not have been the same had it been in airplanes or on a bus. There was just something about getting back to the roots of American transportation that made the experience very transformative.”

It was a 10-day project that started in San Francisco, Calif., and ended in Washington, D.C. The train stopped in seven cities along the way, where the participants had opportunities to work on their individual projects. Each of the 25 people had his or her own social, innovative or advocacy project, Kolodziej said.

His was talking to and educating college students about finances, especially student loans and credit cards. One of his objectives was to find out just how much students knew about their finances.

“What I found was pretty much what I anticipated,” he said.

As he walked college campuses in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Denver, Omaha, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., he met students who just didn’t know much about their student loan debt, credit cards or other financial matters. Not only that, but they generally didn’t pay much attention to money matters, either because it was too confusing or because their parents managed it for them.

It was a stark contrast to the results he got when he surveyed the other passengers on the train, who were much older than the students on campus. All of the passengers were very financially literate, Kolodziej said.

At the end of the trip, he gathered all his data and presented it to Affinity Credit Union to help them better reach out to the college student demographic.

More than research

Being a passenger on the Millennial Trains Project was about more than gathering data. It was a personal development project as well.

At first, it was intimidating to set out on the journey with 24 other strangers, Kolodziej said, but he was able to overcome that. Every day, there was a curriculum to follow which was developed by a Harvard graduate. The passengers would talk to each other about their days, they would attend seminars and work on their own leadership skills.

“I did learn a lot about myself,” he said.

Sometimes, he said, he gets caught up in the work he’s doing. The trip helped him realize the importance of stepping back to reflect on what he’s doing and how it will benefit him in the future. The trip also helped him find his motivations and identify some things he can do now that will have a lasting impact in his own life and the world around him.

“As much as the trip was an outward journey from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., it was also an inward experience,” Kolodziej said. “A lot of time was spent reflecting on the experience and what we were doing and being able to watch the landscape roll past us as we did this made the experience that much better.”

One of the things that stood out, he said, was the passion all the passengers had for their individual projects. Millennials get a “bad rap,” he said, and are often stereotyped as lazy. For those on the train, the project was also about “showing people that we do care, and that we do work and we want to be able to help change the world in whatever way that we can,” he said.

Looking ahead

The summer internship helped Koloziej solidify his interest in finance as a career. He’s trying to get into a class focused on financial literacy at North Dakota State, with the goal of getting more engaged with personal finances, he said.

Kolodziej expects to graduate in May of 2015, and hopes to work in personal or business financial management – things like analyzing financial situations and recommending solutions, giving investment advice, helping people get their first home loan or helping them set up for retirement.

He said he’s considered starting his own consulting firm in that subject area to help meet the high demand for those services, but for now he’s focused on finishing school first.

To learn more about the Millennial Trains Project, go to Kolodziej’s own experience is documented in his blog,

More about his project is available at