A group of St. Lawrence University students was one of five teams to receive Honorable Mention accolades from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York following their presentations at the College Fed Challenge competition in New York City in November.
The College Fed Challenge is a competition designed to bring real-world economics into the classroom. Teams play the role of monetary policymakers by analyzing economic conditions and recommending a course for monetary policy. Staff at the New York Fed host orientations and half-day boot camp for students leading up to the competition. This year, more than 30 New York-based teams competed and 10, including St. Lawrence, earned a spot in the semifinals.
Out of the 12 students enrolled in the course, five went on to compete in New York City in the preliminary round and the semifinals: Michael Donnelly ’20 of Mansfield, Massachusetts; Ryan Donohue ’20 of West Milford, New Jersey; Natalie Herwood ’20 of Stowe, Vermont; Kai Jensen ’21 of Montclair, New Jersey; Ross MacMahon ’21 of Lunenburg, Massachusetts; Garnet Remillard ’20 of Syracuse, New York; Ben Smith ’20 of Westborough, Massachusetts; and Alex Terry ’20 of Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics Cynthia Bansak, a former economist at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, has spent more than a decade equipping St. Lawrence students with the tools and knowledge they need for success in the field of economics through her Fed Challenge course.
“Teaching classes about the Fed is extremely important because the Fed is complicated,” she says. “Students see it in different classes along the way. They'll see it in introductory classes, and intermediate macroeconomics. And I think a lot of people are intimidated by understanding it and trying to delve deep into the inner workings of what the Fed does and the mechanics of it.”
One way she has done that has been the structure of the class itself. “This class is unique because we don’t have a textbook,” explains Natalie Herwood ’20. “Our texts are the Wall Street Journal, the Bloomberg Terminal, and current events. This class has prepared us for the workforce because it helped us develop good habits like reading the news every morning, always knowing the current unemployment rate and knowing what the Fed Funds rate is doing.”
A course like St. Lawrence’s Fed Challenge that is based on constantly-changing dynamics and data can’t be limited to their regular class time on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Throughout the semester, the students and professors spent countless late nights collaborating at the Owen D. Young Library as they researched, planned, and practiced their presentations for the challenge.
They learn a lot of transferable skills,” Bansak says. “Sharing documents, planning ahead and helping each other in a team-based learning type of environment using all sorts of technology helps develop camaraderie and collegiality between the students and the faculty that is unrivaled.”
That camaraderie was critical for success in New York City, where the team gave a 15-minute presentation consisting of their findings of the current state of the economy, its risk factors, the team’s projections, and their monetary policy recommendation, followed by 15 minutes of questions from the judges.
Another highlight for the class has been the support they have had from the Laurentian community as they prepared for competition. In addition to Bansak and Assistant Professor of Economics Shuwei Zhang, Lynn Smith Fox, spouse of President William L. Fox ’75 and former senior official of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, offered her expertise, as did numerous St. Lawrence alumni working in finance who met with the class and made themselves available for video chats throughout the process.
“One of the most important parts of the class has been St. Lawrence’s alumni network,” says Ryan Donohue ’20. “They helped us shape our presentation and allowed us to bounce ideas off of them as well as formulate our answers for the Q&A part, which gave us the chance to really formulate our answers and think about things more deeply. Their willingness to help our class get really involved with the whole process is something that’s really special about the St. Lawrence alumni network.”
As students taking the course reflected on the past semester’s experience, they note how their St. Lawrence liberal arts experience has inspired them to get excited about sharing complex data with others in compelling ways.
“One of the best pieces of advice I learned during this class was that I need to be able to take the data and tell a story,” says Jack Gorman ’22. “You might have all of this data and information from your sources, but if you can’t string it together in a meaningful way, it’s not going to mean anything to anyone. It’s important to be able to articulate why it all matters.”