Dr. Ruth Lytton earned all three of her degrees from Virginia Tech, Bachelors of Science in 1997, Masters in 1979, and completed her Ph.D. in 1986. Dr. Lytton teaches financial planning courses and mentors students to ensure successful induction into financial planning careers. As part of her responsibilities as Director of the CFP Board-Registered Financial Planning Program, she teaches students and professionals about best practices for recruitment and retention.

Dr. Lytton also serves on the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning Women’s Initiative (WIN) Council to help pursue more women into Financial Planning careers. She is also an academic member of the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, and the Society of Financial Service Professionals. Dr. Lytton has also been the recipient of the John H. Cecil Life Service Award from the Central Virginia Chapter of the FPA and the FPA Heart of Financial Planning Award. In addition, she’s also won multiple awards from Virginia Tech: Certificate of Teaching Excellence, the Alumni Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising, and the Award for Excellence in Career Advising.

Now after a long and successful career, Dr. Lytton is retiring. We got to chat with her to reflect on her time here at Virginia Tech, discuss her goals for the Financial Planning program, hear about retirement plans and advice she has for students. The Finance department thanks you for all of your hard work and determination to help and teach students. We cannot wait to see what your future holds! Here’s what she said:

Q: Did you always know you wanted to be a teacher?

A: I knew that I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was a small child, according to my mother. I was not really happy about going to school, initially, and when I was in first grade I ran away from school and ran in the direction to walk home. It’s kind of interesting that I have spent my entire adult life around an academic calendar when I ran away from school in first grade. I started college teaching at 23 because I finished my undergrad and masters pretty quickly. So, I was hired as an instructor at the University of Rhode Island and I started college teaching at 23 years old. I started at University of Rhode Island, and I was there for a year and half. Then I moved to University of Tennessee at Martin, and I was there for 2 and a half years and then I came back to Tech to start my Ph.D. During that time, I was both a graduate assistant and then I became a part-time extension specialist for the university helping to do financial education for the state of Virginia and that’s how I started my first position at Tech and that was on a part-time basis, but the university still counted that as part of my years of service.

Q: What were some of your highlights in the CFP program at Virginia Tech?

A: The biggest highlight is keeping it [the CFP program] alive; it has moved across 3 different colleges since 1997 when it was first registered as a CFP board registered program. I have often commented that the only reason it stayed around was because I was too stubborn to quit. So, we have been very fortunate in that we had both alumni, parents of alumni and professionals who really stood up for the program and stood up to the administration by saying we need to keep this program. It’s forward thinking and has a real future, and I think we see that now. It has become its own free standing major effective this summer within the department of Finance. We have developed a national reputation for excellence and for the placement of our graduates and success in the career field. We have had such a high demand for this year's graduates. We have been very fortunate in that we have attracted good faculty, big bright students and have the support of the alumni who have allowed us to have additional dollars to support enrichment experiences for the students. It has come about as an effort of many people, not something that I take credit for.

Q: What made you come back to Virginia Tech after you completed your Ph.D.?

A: Well I completed my Ph.D. here and I have three degrees from Virginia Tech. [After] I completed my undergraduate [and] masters, I had [gained] teaching experience [from] two other universities. And because the department that I graduated from changed and reconfigured itself, the decision was made that it would probably be okay for me to come back here and do my Ph.D.. This was home. I am originally from Virginia, and it seemed like the best idea.

Q: Is there any advice you would give to students looking to follow a similar path as you? 

A: My path has been very different because it’s completely in the education path. We have some students who do see themselves becoming educators in the future, but really to be a good Financial Planner you need to be a teacher at some level. You are always teaching your clients about the rationale for what your advice is. In other words, the advice that planners give is evidence based on the data they have collected from the client, but then you need to motivate the client and help them understand what the next steps are. So yes, there is a level of being a teacher, but I think more importantly my advice to students is to be open to what the opportunities are [around you]. This is a rapidly growing profession, and to some extent [constantly] changing, [and] as it grows and changes there are going to be client facing, mid-office and back-office opportunities. Students just need to be open to where they best fit and how they would like to structure their career.

Q: What has been your most memorable/favorite CFP experience at Virginia Tech?

A: This may not sound like the most memorable [or favorite] event from someone on the outside or someone reading this but honestly, it’s been arriving back on campus after taking students to a professional conference, getting them back to campus, knowing that it was a successful trip, and we arrived home safely. When you’re traveling with potentially as many as 20 college students and trying to keep them wrangled during a professional conference while also trying to coach and mentor them, the relief when you get to campus and say okay this is done, it went well, and we’re home. That is very memorable and had happened many times as we traveled to different professional conferences. We always had an emergency contact list and thank God we didn’t have to use it.

Q: What would you say has been your most challenging experience while teaching Finance?

A: I don’t know if I can name one. The Finance faculty has welcomed the Financial Planning Program, supported it, and respected it. I think it did take some time for that to happen, I’m not sure that everybody was as open to it initially as they have come to be. I think about the option and now the major, with the option having attracted some of the strongest students in the department, which wasn’t always an exception. The fact that it resonated with the very bright students and gave them the opportunity to use both their right brain for their soft skills, and the need to interact with people as well as their left brain with more technical and analytical skills. I think that since this resonated with them it has been one of the biggest benefits. 

Q: What do you hope for the future of Virginia Tech CFP students?

A: I would like for us to have the faculty resources to re-engage with some of the numerous competitions around the country. There are a lot of different Financial Planning competitions around the country, and we don’t have the faculty resources to take on the support of those teams just yet. I would like to see that as something that’s available to students going forward. Most of them are held in conjunction with a conference, so that would open more doors for students to be able to represent Virginia Tech, compete at those national conferences, spread the reputation of the program, and to be recognized individually for their work.

Q: What goals would you like to see within the CFP major over the next few years?

A: Obviously to participate with the competitions, and we don’t have any elective course available in the Financial Planning area. That is something other programs have available for their students. So, we would like to be able to have some Financial Planning elective classes, but to do that also requires more faculty resources. Everything is a chicken and an egg; you have to move as best you can. Hopefully there will be more opportunities for the department and the students as the major gains more visibility.

Q: What do you have planned for retirement?

A: It is an open door; we don’t know what it’s going to hold. As I said, I have been a college teacher, I have been focused on the next thing. Whether that be the next exam, next lecture, the next semester, the next trip, the next student, and the next alumni. That has been the focus of my career. So now stepping away, not worrying about the next lecture, exam, and grades due at the end of the semester, it’s an open door. One of the things we're definitely going to do in the fall is we hope to actually have time to enjoy the holidays and decorate. Beyond that we are open to what other opportunities might become available. We have a lot of interests, so it’s a new opportunity, that’s about all I can say. We do like landscape gardening and projects like that such as unfinished projects here at the house that we want to work on. There’s a lot of unfinished work we need to work on.

Q: Do you have any last words for your peers at Virginia Tech?

A: I think it’s a word of gratitude, I have been very fortunate to have good teachers when I was here as a student. They helped shape me both academically as I built my knowledge. I have worked with great colleagues who have been supportive of the program although it did have a storied history across the 3 colleges. We finally found a place where we think that the Financial Planning program can be sustained. That has come about through the work and support of many many people. My word to my peers would be gratitude for the opportunity we have been afforded and for the contributions they made to the success of the program. Obviously at some level that has led to my success, but I have always wanted to be very careful in acknowledging that this program did not come about through my efforts, but through a lot of people in the department, across campus, state, and nation. We are very fortunate that we have alumni in more than 20 states, alumni that are active in the profession nationally and locally. They have become leaders in the profession, and that has come about through the work of the people they have been surrounded by. The other thing would be good luck finding parking!