St. Lawrence University’s Fed Challenge team recently celebrated an impressive showing at this year’s National College Fed Challenge, continuing a tradition of excellence at the competition by demonstrating the power of the liberal arts to equip students with the practical skills they need to tackle real-world problems. The team was a regional finalist in the New York Federal Reserve District’s competitive Liberty Street Division and was one of 18 out of 74 teams to compete in the national semifinals.
“While this year’s competition was virtual for the second year, it was unique in that the state of the economy was at a different place,” says Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics Cynthia Bansak. “This year’s team was faced with increased uncertainty about inflation given the supply-side bottlenecks and their policy recommendation needed to reflect these additional challenges in forecasting economic activity.”
Bansak, a former economist at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, co-teaches the Fed Challenge course at St. Lawrence alongside Assistant Professor of Economics Shuwei (Jolly) Zhang.
“The economic data is constantly changing and the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy is under heated debate, all of which raised the level of difficulty when the team was preparing for the competition,” adds Zhang. “Also, there’s an increased diversity in this year’s Fed Challenge team across many dimensions including race, gender, nationality and class year.”
Teams competing in the National College Fed Challenge analyze economic and financial conditions and formulate a monetary policy recommendation, modeling decisions made by the Federal Open Market Committee throughout the year. St. Lawrence competed against other institutions such as Yale University, Dartmouth College, and Babson College. Success in the competition requires critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and collaboration—all skills that are at the heart of St. Lawrence’s innovative liberal arts curriculum.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of being a member of this year’s Fed Challenge team was that I got to work with my classmates in a very hands-on learning environment. I gained useful teamwork and presentation skills that will serve me well into the future,” says team leader Helen Hume ’23, an international economics-French major from Ottawa, Canada.
“This year’s Fed Challenge team had plenty of economics majors, but there were also government, history, math, and statistics majors as well. Everyone brought strong writing and communications skills as well as different views, which allowed us to come up with our unique monetary policy recommendation,” says James Rauch ’22, one of the team’s leading members and an economics and environmental studies combined major and statistics minor from Orchard Park, New York.
While five students (Maria Diaz '23, Blen Gebrehiwot ’22, Evan Holm ’23, Helen Hume ’23 and Anders Newberg ’22) ultimately represent the team in competition, all members of the class are involved in preparation. [Matthew Derouchie ’22, Cristian Forgione ’22, Jack Gorman ’22, Max Hagan ’22, Stew Hutchinson ’22, James C. Rauch ’22, Robert Reynolds ’22, John P. Scotnicki ’23, and Matthew Shadick ‘22]
According to Helen, Laurentians both on and off campus went above and beyond to share their time and insights to best position the team for success.
“We started meeting weekly via Zoom in June and continued until classes started in person at the end of August. During this time, we did various presentations and attended seminars on academic papers pertaining to macroeconomic policy. Once we got into the classroom, we also started to collaborate with alumni to try and perfect our presentation,” says Helen. “Throughout the entire process, we really leaned on members of the community for their help, and we would not have been successful without their guidance.”
For James, who is also a member of the men’s crew team, the Fed Challenge gave him more than just practical exposure to economic policymaking.
“The Fed Challenge is the closest thing to a real-world experience that a student that wants to go into the financial world can have while still being in class,” he says. “The bond between team members is as strong as on a field or in a boat. We worked long hours outside of class with each other, learning from each other, and pushing each other to do the best work possible. I knew I could count on everyone in the class to do their part and to do it well.”