Dartmouth team wins Boston Fed Challenge, places third at national level

Students participating in ECON 78, “Fed Challenge” participated in the competition virtually and bonded outside of the classroom.

by Penelope Spurr | 1/13/22 5:00am

Source: Courtesy of professor Elisabeth Curtis

Last fall, a team of 13 students representing Dartmouth’s economics department won the Boston Fed Challenge Regional Competition and placed third at the 18th annual national College Fed Challenge. Although the competition itself took place virtually, the 13 students who took ECON 78, “Fed Challenge” and represented the College formed a tight-knit community outside of the classroom.

According to its website, the Fed Challenge is “intended to help students become more knowledgeable about the Fed and the decision-making process of the Federal Open Market Committee, the Federal Reserve's monetary policy-setting group.”

Economics professors Elisabeth Curtis and Frank Zarnowski have co-taught the Fed Challenge since 2010. Prior to then, Curtis explained, the Fed Challenge had been a club that she and Zarnowski started with a group of students who were interested in monetary policy. Since Curtis and Zarnowski petitioned the College to formally induct the program into the economics department, they have transformed it into a regular fall term course. According to Curtis, she and Zarnowski have tried to keep the annual class size small, though this year’s cohort of 13 students was the course’s highest enrollment yet. 

Over the course of the term, the class studied and discussed economic theory, trends and policy, Curtis said. The students divided themselves into three groups — one for scriptwriting, one for research and one for data analysis — that collectively developed the team’s competition material. At the regional tournament facilitated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the team’s five presenters spent 15 minutes showcasing their proposed monetary policy and 10 to 15 minutes fielding questions from judges.

“People are attracted to this class because you’re forced to put yourself out there,” Curtis said.

Because the competition was moved earlier, to mid-October, she began sending reading material to her students in August; by the time classes officially started in September, the team hit the ground running. 

Archita Harathi ’22, who was a team presenter, said she was drawn to the class’s unconventional format. She added that this year especially, she and her peers had to consider unique conditions, such as inflationary pressures and market fluctuation due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The classes were all discussion-based,” Harathi said. “And it became a space to practice.”  

The Fed Challenge team was not confined to the classroom, according to Curtis. In the past, Curtis said, she has invited her students to dinner for her first lecture. This year, the students hiked Gile Mountain together, met on weekends to practice and even traveled to a soccer game to show their classmate Ohad Yahalom ’22 support. 

Ellie Urdang ’22 said that her friends outside of class were surprised by the amount of time she was dedicating to preparing for competition. However, she noted that the program served as a “memorable capstone” as she nears completion of her major in economics.

Similarly, Harathi said she felt more connected to the economics department after taking the class. 

“Taking this class gave me confidence to talk about the economy and economic theory,” she said. 

For Curtis, teaching the class is rewarding.

“I go through this period, sometime after they’ve started to practice and before the competition, when things start to click, where we all start to feel really good …” she said. “I know there will always be that moment. That’s the best part of this.”

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