Late in the Fall 2020 Semester, Dr. Daria Sevastianova, Associate Professor of Economics and Center for Economic Education Director, received an email from her colleague and Center Director at Northern Kentucky University, Dr. Abdullah Al Bahrani, inviting USI to participate in the 2021 Econ Games to be held in March. Always interested in providing experiential learning opportunities to students, Sevastianova accepted the offer enthusiastically. “It seemed like a great opportunity for our students to see how economics can solve real-world problems and also learn what professional economists do,” she said. Early in the Spring semester, she recruited 14 students and formed four USI teams.
The Econ Games challenge is an opportunity for students to solve a business problem using real-life applications of the data and statistical methods they learn in class. The 2021 event was held virtually, and it was set up as a course on Canvas, a learning management system, and featured practice challenges. During the final weekend, the teams received a dataset from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, which contained more than 200 time series variables on the U.S. real economy, labor, and financial markets. Teams were asked to identify a problem, work out their findings, and recommend policy solutions. “The students were able to pick out key series from the data, which was a challenge on its own,” said Mark Schweitzer, Senior Vice President of Research at the Cleveland Federal Reserve and a judge for the games. There were also two webinars: one with a health economist speaker and one in which Federal Reserve interns and officials explained their work and expectations for the final challenge. Sophomore economics major Isaac Sullivan was inspired by these professionals, noting “I really enjoyed the presentations. These people have gone far, and that’s where I could end up.”
Students used Stata software for data analysis, as well as Tableau Public for data visualizations. “I liked the crash course on Tableau. It was a good starting point,” said computer science major Joseph Almanza de Leon. The event also included social media components and advice on adding the games to their LinkedIn profiles and resumes. Upon uploading their profiles, students could network with the other teams. Junior Tatiana Gilpin, a psychology major, said she received “eighty LinkedIn invites immediately!”
The four USI teams each submitted an 8-minute video presentation. Evaluating the presentations were:
• Dr. Cathy Carey, Dean of the Romain College and Professor of Economics
• Dr. Tim Schibik, Assistant Dean of the Romain College and Professor of Economics
• Dr. Trent Engbers, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the MPA Program
• Dr. Bohan Ye, Assistant Professor of Economics
• Dr. Daria Sevastianova, Associate Professor of Economics and Center for Economic Education Director
• Tim Puckett ‘09, economics, Investment Executive and VP at Fifth Third Securities
• Elle Floyd ’18 M’20, Pinnacle Teaching
They narrowed it down to one team to represent USI. Team members were seniors Sheridan Arnold, economics; Mara Monterrosa, business administration; Cole Stephenson, economics and philosophy; and Andrew Zieg, accounting and finance. Their presentation addressed the issue of “Small Businesses in the Time of Covid-19.”
Participating in the challenge served as a valuable mini-internship opportunity. Students built their portfolios and strengthened the skills that are highly sought after in the job market: communication, teamwork, networking, problem solving, data analysis and visualizations. “Skills in data analytics continue to dominate conversations that I have with employers as more of them are seeking employees with those skills,” said Dr. Cathy Carey, Dean of the Romain College of Business. Andrew Zieg learned that in addition to analyzing data to make better decisions, “it is extremely important how you communicate information.”
Judges from the Cleveland Federal Reserve announced the winners after hearing final presentations: first place – University of Kentucky; second place – Mount Royal University; third place – University College London. Schweitzer noted that the winning team from the UK “used a lot of data and showed how different data sources tie in and can inform policy recommendations.” Northern Kentucky University was named Most Enthusiastic Team based on completing all challenges. All students received participation certificates, and the winners earned cash prizes.
“I enjoyed working with my team. We are all best friends now!”
Several USI team members have already decided to improve their data analysis skills by enrolling in the Econ Games Stata Camp this summer. Sevastianova plans to participate in the Econ Games in 2022. She would like to recruit well-rounded teams from diverse majors and collaborate with political science students who would have a good perspective on policy solutions.
The Games were launched in 2018 by the University of Kentucky and Northern Kentucky University, in collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. This year, the opportunity was extended to 18 universities, including USI, University of Arizona, Elon University, Carnegie Mellon University, Mount Royal University in Alberta, Canada, Virginia Tech, Xavier University and University College London, with 266 domestic and international students participating.
“I realized just how much I must learn not only to compete in the job market, but also to achieve my personal career goals.”
Dr. Sevastianova met with USI student teams on Zoom.
Econ Games 2021 organizers, Drs. Patel and Al-Bahrani and Jeni Houser, prepare to announce the winning teams on March 12.
More information can be found on the Econ Games program website.