Economics students soar at Federal Reserve Challenge

November 27, 2013

UW-Whitewater teamFrom left, students Jose Zenteno, Mary Cummings, Anthony Galston, Jason Baron and Derrek Grunfelder-McCrank, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

In a competition that featured some of the top economics programs in the world, UW-Whitewater students finished strong in the College Fed Challenge.

Held Nov. 25 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the competition brought together college students in the Midwest to test their knowledge and understanding of monetary policy.

Working as a team, students have to give a 15-minute presentation analyzing economic data and then make recommendations about what the Federal Reserve should be doing with regard to monetary policy. The judges are Federal Reserve economists.

"It's not enough for students to demonstrate that they know what they're talking about," said Yamin Ahmad, associate professor of economics at UW-Whitewater. "They need to justify it."

Like lawyers citing past court rulings as precedent, the students were expected to quote from scholarly journals and use historical economic data to support their views.

"It's intimidating," said Mary Cummings, a senior from Janesville. "You're a college student and basically have to talk economic policy with people with Ph.D.'s and years of experience.  At the same time, it's really exhilarating to be talking with senior economists at their level."

The second part of the competition is an open question-and-answer session.

"The questions can be pretty much about anything related to economics," Ahmad said. "Teamwork is a huge component. Judges want to see everyone on the team contributing to the discussion. They also want to see the students stay calm under pressure."

Northwestern University and University of Chicago finished first and second, respectively. The UW-Whitewater team finished third overall, beating out schools such as UW-Madison, Marquette University, University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Ball State University.

"It's a wonderful feeling," said Derrek Grunfelder-McCrank, a junior from Elkhorn. "It's a sign that everyone's hard work is paying off."

Preparation for the competition began over the summer, when students began poring over economic reports, data and research.

During practice sessions, Yamin and his UW-Whitewater colleagues, Stuart Glosser and Eylem Ersal, grilled students on monetary policy to prepare them for the competition.

"We have really good, really motivated students," Ahmad said. "At UW-Whitewater our goal in the Economics Department is to get students to think critically and analytically about the world's problems and ways to solve them."

"Classroom learning is incredible, but when you participate in the Fed Challenge, you're working as an analyst regarding monetary policy and how it affects the economy," Grunfelder-McCrank said. "Aside from an internship at the Fed, there's no better way to gain experience.  The competition pushes you to limits you didn't know you had."


Jeff Angileri

Sara Kuhl