Dr. Cynthia Bansak, Professor of Economics, has been teaching a class on the Fed Challenge for the last nine years. The Fed Challenge is an annual competition between undergraduates centered on the crafting of a monetary policy recommendation based off current economic and financial conditions. The challenge is sponsored by the Federal Reserve System, which is the central bank of the United States.
As of October 31, 2017, a team of five St. Lawrence students, Zane Belden ’18, Jack Martin ’18, Michael Zunkeler ’18, Garnet Remillard ’20, and James Schibli ’18, have made it past the preliminary round of the 2017 Fed Challenge. They will now be advancing to the semi-finals, along with teams from eight other NY-state schools on November 14, 2017.
This is only the second time in the program’s history that St. Lawrence students have advanced to the second round. Two years ago, under the advisement of Bansak, a group of SLU students made it to the semi-finals, but they did not advance farther.
The five members of the team are currently enrolled in Professor Cynthia Bansak’s Econ 410/411 class on monetary policy. The class is predicated on the notion of experiential learning; while only part of the class is able to partake in the actual challenge, all students enrolled explore the dynamics of the U.S. economy, monetary policy, and the financial system through both in-class research as well as through networking with individuals who have worked in finance for years.
The class involves multiple trips to New York City, where students are able to discuss their financial plans for the challenge with individuals experienced in the financial sector. This semester, the class has traveled to New York City twice. The first time, on September 19, the students received an overview of the competition by the New York Fed. The second time around, the students spent their mid-semester break developing their scripts and deciding what they would present to the judges of the preliminary round. During this trip, the students visited two financial institutions hosted by SLU alumni such as Cantor Fitzgerald, JP Morgan, and the Carlyle Group.
Students are granted the chance to travel and network through the aid of both alumni and outside foundations. No student is excluded due to an inability to afford the expenditure. As Professor Bansak states, “[The funders] recognize the important impacts that experiential learning can have on student outcomes. It’s transformative.”
As Belden states, “I believe anyone who has taken the Fed Challenge would agree that the class opens doors for you. We make at least three trips to NYC and meet with alumni whose job it is to focus on monetary policy. Being able to speak their language sets you apart from a lot of other college students competing for the same jobs.”
If the SLU team does surpass the semi-finals, then the students involved will be headed to Washington, D.C. as well.
Although sending students to the various rounds of The College Fed Challenge is part and parcel of the class, the course doubles as a semester-long exploration of U.S. monetary policy. As Tatiana Araújo ’19 states, “The class is great because it gives you a larger understanding of the American banking system. You constantly see things about the financial system of the United States on the news, but this class gives a holistic view of those concepts.”
Bansak’s class is like many others on-campus; it has participation grades, finals, and peer evaluations. The class is notable, though, for the real-life experiences it provides to students. As Webb Campbell ’18 states, “It’s a lot of learning, but it’s all practical. Everything you learn is applicable to daily life.”
In addition, a remarkable aspect of the class is that it can be taken more than once. Both Belden and Maddi Goodwine ’18 were involved in the class prior, but have chosen to take it again. Belden is hopeful that his past participation in the class will aid the team in making it past semi-finals: “I wanted to take what I’ve learned since my sophomore year and go further than just the semifinals. We are currently preparing for the next round, and, if we win, we will then move on to compete in Washington D.C. and meet the current chair of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen.”
It remains to be seen how far the St. Lawrence team will advance, but the members of the class are hopeful that their efforts will ultimately pay off, be it through a victory or in their post-graduate experiences.