An elective class at Virginia Tech changed Rianka Dorsainvil’s life - literally.

After receiving a C in a vector geometric calculus course, the frustrated math major decided to try a personal finance class. She was hooked.

“I was literally blown away,” Dorsainvil said. “This is where we learned about credit scores, retirement planning, disability insurance, and student loans. I was like, ‘This is very tangible information that we can use today.’”

Now, more than 10 years later, Dorsainvil is considered one of the top financial planning experts in the country. A Maryland-based certified financial planner professional, she runs her own virtual financial planning company with a focus on working with millennials. She also is a sought-out speaker and interview subject for a variety of national business news publications and television outlets, including CNBC, Forbes, Marketwatch, and USA Today.

Dorsainvil, who recently was named Wealth Management’s “Ten to Watch” in 2018 and one of Investopedia’s top 100 financial advisors, is a national trailblazer in a field that lacks diversity in race and gender.

And with a strong drive and a newly launched podcast, the 31-year-old is on a mission to change the face of the profession that she loves.

After that first personal finance class at Virginia Tech, Dorsainvil couldn’t stop talking about her newfound interest. Her friends started coming to her for financial advice.

“She was always driven and very committed to excellence in her efforts to be successful,” said Ruth Lytton, a professor of financial planning at Virginia Tech and director of the university’s financial planning program, housed in the Pamplin College of Business. “Nothing was going to stop her when she was a student, and she has proven that through her career.”

Dorsainvil was becoming known as a campus leader, too. She was vice president and president of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, and vice president of the Student Government Association.

At the time, Dorsainvil, who is African-American and Chilean, wasn’t the typical student interested in the financial planning profession. The field was and remains one that lacks diversity in race and gender. Less than 3.5 percent of approximately 80,000 certified financial planner professionals in the United States are black or Latino, according to the CFP Board Center for Financial Planning. Also, 33 percent of financial advisors were women in 2017, compared with 67 percent of men, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

That did not stop Dorsainvil.

“It speaks to her tenacity,” Lytton said.

Ultimately, Dorsainvil’s dream to become a financial planner and to help people was inspired by her grandmother, who raised her and needed kidney dialysis when Dorsainvil was in college. She expected that her grandmother, Wanza Farr or “Nana,” would retire from her job to get the treatment that she needed.

But she could not retire. She wasn’t prepared financially for it.

“She always was the first person to give, but because she didn’t take care of herself first, she couldn’t” retire, Dorsainvil said. “That’s why I dedicate my career to her. If you put yourself first when it comes to finances, when and as family members do come and are in need of help, you’re able to help them without expecting anything from them in return.”

Even before she graduated from Virginia Tech in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural and applied economics, Dorsainvil landed a job as a financial planner at a small firm in Maryland. Five years later, she joined another firm, where she worked with clients who had at least $1 million in assets.

But her heart was in working with millennials who may not have a large nest egg but were thriving in their careers. Many millennials were hitting important life stages, such as marriage, having children, or starting a business. Dorsainvil wanted to give them financial guidance.

Plus, her Hokie alumni friends were reaching out to her for advice.

"I felt this call, a void missing, for working with thriving young professionals," she said.

In 2015, Dorsainvil, then 28 years old, left the firm to start her own business, Your Greatest Contribution, a virtual financial advising company. She works with clients around the country via video conference, which eliminates the need for in-person meetings.

“I am always on the go,” she said. “If I am my ideal client, I know that convenience is important to me.”

Though Dorsainvil works with people of all ages, her focus is those from late 20 to 40 years old. She charges a quarterly retainer fee and provides comprehensive financial planning, with a concentration on long-term projections, not only investments, and retirement planning. She runs her business from her home, along with a part-time executive assistant and a part-time associate planner. Dorsainvil wears multiple hats.

“It’s coaching, mentoring, being their financial planner, sometimes being a family therapist and marriage counselor,” said Dorsainvil, who is married to Reggie Dorsainvil, a senior manager at Deloitte Consulting.

Like Dorsainvil, some financial planners across the country are shifting their business to focus on millennials, Lytton said. Take firms like those affiliated with the XY Planning Network, a group of financial planners who specialize in working with Generation X and Y clients. Dorsainvil is a member of the network.

“It’s been difficult for the middle class to be able to secure financial advice because the typical method of charging is asset-centered management,” Lytton said. “But that is changing.”

As her profile continues to grow, Dorsainvil has earned a slew of accolades. She was the inaugural winner of the 2017 Investment News’ Rising Star Award, which recognizes an emerging leader in the financial advice field. Also in 2015, she made Investment News’ list of the top “40 Under 40” financial services professionals.

Several years ago, she co-founded an alumni mentoring program for female graduates in Virginia Tech’s financial planning program. The program continued until 2016.

Dorsainvil also served as the 2016 national president of the Financial Planning Association’s NexGen community. This past April, she received one of Virginia Tech’s Influential Black Alumni Awards for outstanding recent alumnae.

She often speaks to students who are studying financial planning at universities across the country about the field.

“I love empowering them and helping them understand the various opportunities that you can have in this career,” Dorsainvil said.

She also is putting her efforts behind another goal for the profession - increasing minorities and women who work in the industry. Earlier this year, she launched a podcast called 2050 Trailblazers, which features interviews with financial professionals who discuss diversity and inclusion in the industry. The year 2050 is the year that the minority population is expected to become the majority, Dorsainvil said.

“Our professionals have to start looking like the country that we are serving, and right now, we don’t,” she said.

Since the launch of the podcast, several financial planning firms have reached out to Dorsainvil for advice on how to make their practices more diverse. One company gathers its employees together to listen to the podcast, which offers new episodes several times a month.

“I feel like it is a responsibility of mine to elevate other people’s voices,” Dorsainvil said. “I’m just listening and being a vessel for what’s needed.”

Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone