Growing up, Lubbock native Ben Mercado’s childhood home was located very close to the Texas Tech Jones AT&T football stadium, so he often heard the Goin’ Band from Raiderland as they performed at football games.
As he got older, he regularly worked concessions at Tech games with church groups, he said. He received his associates degree from South Plains, and despite growing up so close to Tech, it wasn’t until after he earned his associates that he contemplated going to Tech.
“I just knew it was a big part of my life but it wasn’t until after I got my associates that I decided I did want to go to university, and why not Tech?” Mercado said. “It’s right in my backyard, all my family is here, I grew up listening to the Goin’ Band.”
Like so many other students, Mercado was unsure of the path his life would take. However, his grandparents helped him find his calling, he said. As his grandparents got older, minor debts became a concern. Mercado had read some books on personal finance. He put his knowledge to use, and worked with his grandparents to establish a budget, get debts settled or eliminated. Within a few months, his grandparents were able to begin saving.
He remembers a conversation with his grandmother when she expressed how proud she was that her grandson was the one who had helped them.
“And one of the things she told me that had a high impact was that she knew even though she was getting sicker, she knew my grandpa was going to be OK,” he said. “Their finances were settled. She wouldn’t have to worry about him like she would have if they hadn’t had that taken care of. So that meant a lot to me and that had a big impact.”
Upon arriving at Tech, Mercado said he changed majors several times from university studies, to business, to accounting, finally landing on personal finance. He now has his own personal financial planning firm, Foundations Keep.
“When I got into the major, or the studies of it, it was a little different than I expected, but at the core of it, there’s a service to it, and I really enjoy that service,” he said. “And I get to do that for clients, like I did with my grandparents and my parents, now I get to replicate that over and over, and it’s such a joy.”
Part of the personal financial planning curriculum is interning with financial firms. Mercado secured a position with a firm in Lubbock which turned into a job that he maintained after graduation in 2014 until he opened his own firm, he said.
“And the intent, we had the understanding from the very beginning was that I would eventually set up my own firm,” Mercado said. “And so they really helped mentor me throughout that.”
Mercado also has a government contract that he secured, in part, with the help of an organization he chartered in his time at Tech, he said.
While he was earning his degree, Mercado became aware of the Toastmasters organization, from a professor, Robert Barnhill, who had won national competitions through Toastmasters and advocated for it, Mercado said.
“To have someone that distinguished in the Toastmasters organization, and he was a really well known professor, and a really well known professional, because he had his own CPA office here in Lubbock, that was really inspiring,” he said. “If I wanted to be successful as a financial planner, then of course I’m looking to replicate or see how other professionals have been successful.”
Toastmasters is an international non-profit organization that seeks to build communication skills and leadership, according to its website. There are currently more than 350,000 members worldwide.
At the time, the Texas Tech chapter had yet to be chartered; it was in its infant stages when, on a whim, Mercado decided to attend some meetings his junior year.
“I went to a few meetings, super nervous, super quiet, just to myself, and it just really impressed me,” he said. “The eloquence they had when they were speaking. Some people went up there, and you could tell they were nervous, but the next time you could tell they weren’t as nervous.”
When what would soon be known as the Eloquent Raiders received its charter, Mercado was asked to be a chartering member, which he said was an honor. He spent the rest of his time as an undergraduate taking on many different roles in the organization, from the president to sergeant of arms, to officer of public relations and many more.
“It was something I really enjoyed, and what I really liked about it was not just that I was getting more comfortable giving speeches, but I also got a chance to meet other people from other colleges and majors and establish friendships,” he said. “But also have a competitive atmosphere. It was fun and all in good spirits. And that left an impact with me.”
Mercado has maintained his relationship with the Eloquent Raiders, now an established Toastmasters chapter, becoming a mentor and role model for current students.
“He’s really confident,” Preston McDonald, a graduate student in biological sciences and the Vice President of Public Relations for the Eloquent Raiders, said. “He’s an amazing speaker. He makes the whole meeting flow more smoothly. He’s a role model. He’s epitomizing everything that everyone’s trying to develop here.”
Mercado has filled in at various positions as needed in his time acting as an unofficial mentor, and has been a great resource for the current members of Eloquent Raiders, McDonald said. Mercado’s expertise has been helpful, as he was a member and leader when the club was in its early days, so he knows how to organize and run meetings.
He also brings more than just his Toastmasters knowledge to the table; Mercado brings a new perspective and energy, Jill Davis, the faculty advisor for Eloquent Raiders, said.
This is good for students because they have the chance to gain perspective on the organization and the opportunities Eloquent Raiders provide from someone who has gone through it and is now a professional.
Part of the lesson students can get is that being apart of Toastmasters impacted Mercado in more ways than he thought, he said.
“I went to Toastmasters just to have a little more confidence,” Mercado said. “Never in my life did I think I would be contracting with the government to just go up and speak in front of people. It’s just hard to imagine, I go to school to learn something and then get paid for that, Eloquent Raiders wasn’t even a course. It wasn’t even a public speaking class, it was just something I did for fun, and that ends up being something I actually get paid for.”
Gaining confidence and communication skills in front of an audience is one of the key learning objectives of Toastmasters, McDonald said, and is one of the reasons he joined Eloquent Raiders.
“I think this is a good place for controlled exposure and that’s how you extinguish fear,” he said. “I think it’s mostly about providing a safe and supportive environment for everyone to work on what it is they came here to work on. No one is here to sabotage anyone or be overly critical. That’s the most important thing.”
Many students go into Toastmasters uncertain of themselves, or how they will benefit from the organization, Davis said. Once students jump in, they have been able to blossom and accomplish what they wanted to.
Students are responsible for their own experience, and Davis said one of her favorite parts about being a faculty advisor is watching students take initiative and put energy into the Eloquent Raiders and seeing how it is reflected back on them.
This trend is also one of Mercado’s favorite aspects of Toastmasters.
“The one that sticks with me, it’s an ongoing one, and it’s an experience that happens over and over,” he said. “You see somebody walk in the door, and they’re very nervous, very shy, very to themselves, and then the next semester, or even a year later, they’ve just blossomed. They look completely new. Their posture is different, the presence in their voice is louder. They are able to volun-tell people what to do. Just seeing that personal growth in each individual has probably been one of the most exciting things that I’ve been apart of with toastmasters.”
Because of Eloquent Raiders, Mercado was able to leave his mark on the university. He was asked to speak at a graduation ceremony for his college, he said.
“Even being able to represent my fellow graduates, I thought that was a big honor,” Mercado said. So that was one of my special moments for me at graduation because I got to apply what I had learned in Toastmasters in that ceremony, and I got to leave my mark on the program.”