Amidst the backdrop of an unprecedented financial climate, four Simon’s Rock students rose to the foreground of the economic debate and presented their own policy ideas as participants in fifth annual Fed Challenge Competition. Hosted by the Boston Federal Reserve, the national competition’s mission is to promote economic literacy by asking students to analyze current conditions and recommend an appropriate course of monetary action. Competing alongside top colleges and universities from throughout New England, Bard College at Simon’s Rock sophomores Lauren Dahlin, Derek Walker, James Krellenstein, and junior Tom Meyer Jr. represented the College in its first competition.
“We decided to participate in the Fed Challenge because all four of us are very interested in economics, and, particularly given what is going on currently, the policy of the Federal Reserve is as relevant as ever,” said Derek Walker ‘08.
At the beginning of the fall semester, Dahlin and Walker—who had participated in the Challenge as high school students—approached economics faculty member and alumnus Dan Neilson ‘97 and asked him to sponsor the team. “I was clear with them from the beginning that in order for me to become involved, it would really have to be their project,” said Neilson. “I told them that if they could gather a team of students who were committed to the competition, took it seriously, and would represent Simon’s Rock well, that I would be happy to be involved.” That was all Dahlin and Walker needed to get started. Like typical Rockers, they organized the team, wrote and researched their entire presentation, found interesting questions, and developed strong answers. “I was impressed with their level of engagement,” said Neilson. “The students spent weeks researching the Fed, absorbing relevant policy questions, putting together slides, and practicing for the competition,” which consisted of a 20 minute presentation before a panel of Federal Reserve judges.
Each member of the team was responsible for a different segment. Krellenstein talked about GDP growth and inflation, Walker talked about financial markets, Dahlin spoke about housing and consumer spending, and Myer focused on labor markets and industrial production. Their strategy was to arrive at a consensus by talking through the issues and making sure that their presentation was coherent and everyone was in agreement. “Our policy recommendation wasn’t controversial,” said Walker. “This competition is not about coming up with a clever idea but about supporting a moderate recommendation.”
Throughout their entire process, the team balanced dozens of signals and indicators in the housing and labor markets, and thoroughly examined everything from interest rates to prices and market trends in order to capture a general picture of the economy. “Things are stabilizing, but everything could also change,” said Neilson. “There are certainly warning signals, but there is also reason for optimism.”
Although Simon’s Rock was not a finalist in the competition, Neilson was impressed with how the team presented themselves and their ideas. “After the results came in, we were disappointed at first, but then we all went out for coffee and ended up chatting about some of the larger economic questions that we were exploring in our presentation,” he said. In this manner, it became evident that the research the team conducted to prepare for the competition held value beyond the competition itself. “The students thought about these issues and questions very, very thoroughly. Each one of them is poised to take economics seriously as they move forward in their careers.”
(Update, 12/14/09: This story has been edited to revise the spelling of Tom Meyer, Jr.'s name and class year.)