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Posts from the ‘AIER Programs’ Category

Bridging the Gap Between Academia and the Workplace


Education literature suggests that the nature of a student’s participation in workplace activities has a major impact on the knowledge that student acquires.

At AIER, we believe the classroom walls should be both transparent and permeable to the rigors and requirements of the workplace. Therefore, classroom learning needs to support an internship experience and vice versa, facilitating the integration of new college graduates into the labor force.

Two years ago, we held a pilot program for our applied economic research internship program. This past fall, we continued this program in conjunction with two academic institutions, the University of Sioux Falls and Missouri University of Science and Technology. We brought economists from AIER into the classroom, and brought the university professors and their students into the workplace. This exchange of staff occurred figuratively, of course. The course was “remote” and our interaction occurred across several meetings over WebEx and frequent communication using e-mail.

During the semester, 20 students worked in four teams on a project about employment trends in various industries, and the relationship of those trends to the business cycles. Students were supervised by research fellow Patrick Coate and me.

During the January 2017 intersession, 12 out of 20 students will be coming to AIER’s campus in western Massachusetts to continue their immersion in economic research. These students are from the University of Sioux Falls.

This kind of collaborative arrangement between academic institutions and practitioners represents an innovative approach to bridge the gap between undergraduate economic education and the professional world. It engages students in topical economic research and walks them through the research process, substantiating the theoretical base they had established in prior courses. This exposure helps undergraduates broaden their knowledge, and gain marketable skills and practical experience. This helps them become more successful participants in the global workforce.

This program supports AIER’s mission, raises our national profile as an innovator, and cultivates the connections for future collaborative engagements. If you want your class to be a part of this program next year, please contact me.

Picture: AIER in winter. Photo by Bruce Gore.

Teaching High School Students About Unemployment


How would you use a sampling distribution to measure unemployment? Students at Lee Middle and High School, in Lee, Massachusetts, recently learned this lesson with some help from the American Institute for Economic Research.

Teachers who participated in AIER’s Teach-the-Teachers Initiative are field testing their lesson ideas. On January 28, we visited Lee to observe the AP Statistics class taught by Thomas McCormack. Prior to our visit, Mr. McCormack assigned each of his 20 students a labor force status (for instance, a retiree, a full-time student, a laid-off person). In addition, each student was given a randomly generated list of 10 of their classmates. This was an attempt to replicate the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ monthly survey when they use random digit dialing. Thus, each student had a sample of 10 students and was told to record the labor force status of each student in their sample. Then each student calculated the unemployment rate for their sample by dividing the number of unemployed by the number of people in the labor force, which is the sum of employed and unemployed. So each student obtained one number to represent the unemployment rate for their sample.

During the class period each student came up to the white board and put their unemployment rate statistic on a number line. As a whole, the class created a dot plot of 20 unemployment rates. Of course, each of the 20 unemployment rates was different, and represented a distribution of unemployment rates in 20 possible samples. This is exactly the definition of the sampling distribution! It was visual, it was understandable to the students, and it was cool!

Mr. McCormack then posed the question: “We have only one true number of the unemployment rate in this population, but we have all these dots here…. Why do you think that is?” The students discussed the concepts of a “range,” a “mean,” and a “standard deviation.” The teacher went on to describe the normal distribution and its properties.

IMG_1021 Based on the sampling distribution of the unemployment rate depicted on the board (in this class we had rates that were as low as 17% and as high as 57%), students predicted the unemployment rate for the whole population and then compared this prediction with the actual unemployment rate defined by the teacher for this activity. This helped them to see that, even though there was one true unemployment rate for the population (33%), individual samples can vary quite a bit. The class discussed the reasons for the “errors” and proposed ways to minimize them, such as using a larger sample, for example.

This creative lesson required students to actively engage with the concepts of an unemployment rate and a sampling distribution. In addition to employing the inquiry-based method, it allowed the infusion of economic concepts into a statistics class, promoting an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning. All of these things are important for building college- and career-readiness skills among high school students. We are happy that our program helped Mr. McCormack to create such a stimulating lesson.

We are offering three workshops for teachers during the Summer 2016. Visit our Web site to learn more and to register for the program:

Pictures: First picture shows the role-playing cards being used by students to guess the actual unemployment rate after they saw the sampling distribution on the board, which is shown on the second picture.


Learning Economics with Movie Tickets and Babysitting

Drew Field test 2-cropTeachers who went through the AIER Teach-the-Teachers Initiative continue to dazzle us with creativity and innovative practices in their classrooms.

On September 9, 2015, we observed two American History II lessons taught by Drew Gibson at Mount Greylock Regional School in Williamstown, Mass. The purpose of the lessons was defined by the teacher as “discovering the story behind economic data and charts.”

Mr. Gibson (shown in the picture) used data on babysitting wages per hour, and movie ticket prices from 1945 through 2000, to make an interesting point about supply, demand, and price. The data was taken from Virtual Economics published by the Council for Economic Education.

The students computed the average annual rate of increase for both values, and graphed the relationship between Read more

AIER Interns are Getting Jobs

IMG_0830As the Summer Fellowship Practicum wrapped up last week, we are excited to learn that two of this year’s fellows have either lined up a job or paid internship already.

Elena Casanovas, who came to us from UCLA with a completed bachelor’s degree in political science, is going to start a paid research internship at the Brookings Institution on September 21. She is going to work for the Metropolitan Policy Program. Elena said: “My stay at AIER was certainly a key in helping me get this position at Brookings. The research experience the Summer Fellows program offers is not only extremely valuable in the world of think tanks, but also a very unique opportunity. It is very unusual for undergraduate students to have been involved so actively in relevant research projects, and I believe it was crucial for getting my internship.”

Another summer fellow, Mari Zeta Valladolid, had gone home to Peru to start policy work at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), a famous research institute. Mari said: “The AIER Summer Fellowship allowed me to actively engage in different stages of the research process. Learning about data analysis and the specific topic of small and medium sized enterprises will serve me well in my professional career.”

In other news, we also heard from two graduates of AIER’s collaborative remote Applied Economics course and in-residence winter extension: Matt Horan, who is a senior at the University of Sioux Falls, and Lauren Unruh who graduated from that school last spring.

This past summer, Matt landed an internship at South Dakota Trust Company in Sioux Falls. He worked with their operations section of the company and learned a lot about trusts and how to manage them. “Having experience working in an office and using Excel was very helpful. I found it easier to communicate because I molded those skills with AIER. Often I had to work with other people or teams of people for various projects,“ Matt said.

Lauren graduated summa cum laude from the University of Sioux Falls in May and accepted an audit position with McGladrey, LLP right there in Sioux Falls. When reflecting on her experience with AIER, Lauren said: “Basically, I think this class was a good opportunity to get a feel for when it’s appropriate to ask for help… It’s important to push yourself to be an independent learner, but it’s also good to know when to rely on others to help you learn. So to summarize, working with AIER allowed me to learn how to learn, if that makes sense.”

We are proud of students who participated in our programs, and excited to see them using the skills they acquired at AIER.

Picture: University of Sioux Falls students at AIER in January 2015. Standing: Julie Westra, Matt Horan; seated: Lauren Unruh

The AIER Summer Fellowship Experience

IMG_0038This week, AIER says goodbye to 10 wonderful students whom we have had the pleasure of hosting this year. During seven weeks in July and August, undergraduate and graduate students from across the world took part in our renowned Summer Fellowship Practicum.

The program, which has thrived at AIER for almost 70 years, hosts only the most academically talented students, who serve in residence as they work individually on AIER research projects.

This year’s crop of fellows have worked hard on projects ranging from optimal Social Security benefit strategies, asset allocation, and monetary policy models, to developing and reconstructing a college destinations index, analyzing small business performance over time and the methods of measuring America’s middle class.

PhD student at Washington State University Lyudmyla Kompaniyets said that the diversity of projects and guest lectures through the summer practicum let her get outside her usual field of microeconomics, and gain experience in doing rigorous macroeconomic research. Maria Zeta Valladolid, a recent graduate from Colby College, articulated similar sentiments, stating that the work “gives you research experience from gathering and analyzing data to telling the story behind the numbers,” something very valuable to her and the other fellows.

Beyond engaging with diverse projects, the fellows also came from diverse backgrounds and educational programs. Students gathered at AIER from Spain, Peru, and China, as well as locally from universities like Drexel, Brandeis, and Millersville University of Pennsylvania. There were two PhD students, five master’s students, and three undergraduates.

The diversity of interests and backgrounds helped to facilitate economic and cultural learning both inside and outside our formal work environment. Informally, students arranged two cross-cultural dinner nights, and they saw plenty of museums, musical performances and art exhibits in our area of Berkshire County, Massachusetts. As Kompaniyets put it, “this program is so much more than just an internship.”

Another fellow, Cara Clase from Millersville, agreed that the cultural part of the program was one of her favorites, saying, “Outings to places such as the Norman Rockwell Museum and Tanglewood gave fellows the opportunity to explore the Great Barrington area.”

The seven-week program provides an experiential learning experience to students by encouraging a meaningful contribution to an actual project under the guidance of AIER researcher. For more information, or to apply for next year’s fellowship, click here.


Front row (L to R): Cara Clase, Xiaoxiao Chen, Elena Casanovas, Maria Valladolid, Tamsa Sabat, Vivien Zhang

Back row (L to R): Michelle Ryan, Milton Mai, Di Wang, Valentina Connell, Kristopher Cramer, Lyudmyla Kompaniyets, Natalia Smirnova

AIER’s Educational Programs Applauded

IMG_0540Two of AIER’s economic education programs received enthusiastic interest at the American Economic Association’s Conference on Teaching and Research in Economic Education that was held on May 27-29 in Minneapolis.

We presented two papers, the first of which showcased AIER’s Money School program. This program supports survivors of domestic and sexual violence, giving them the knowledge, confidence, and connections to handle their own finances.

The feedback for this paper, presented by AIER Senior Research Analyst Nicole Kreisberg, was quite positive. People who attended this session said that they were impressed with the scope of the work, and its unique nature, including serving rural residents. They suggested various ways to improve the program, and encouraged expanding it to a wider, even national audience.

The second paper reported on the results of the first class of the Teach-the-Teachers Initiative. This AIER program gives high school teachers the tools to improve the way they teach economics.

I reported that the program is unique in two ways. First, we encourage the use of economic concepts across various disciplines, such as Spanish, algebra and history, as well as in special education, to name just a few. This approach serves teachers well, because Common Core standards stipulate the development of critical thinking and analytical skills in students in all fields of study. The discipline of economics is well suited for developing those critical thinking and analytical skills.

Second, we ask teachers to field test the lesson idea generated during their stay at AIER in their home classrooms. We then follow up and visit their schools to observe the effectiveness of the lessons. The follow-up process is special and is rarely being done by other programs.

During the academic year we collected feedback from the participating teachers and their students after the lesson was taught. Both the students and the teachers reported that the goals for the lessons were identified clearly, and were achieved. The teachers reported that their understanding of the concepts improved, and the students responded that their teachers were knowledgeable about the topics introduced in class, and the class materials were interesting and easy to follow.

We are excited to get ready for the second class of Teach-the-Teachers on June 22-26, 2015. We also keep in touch with the 2014 alumni, several of whom will be coming back on June 27 to learn one additional topic and to exchange stories from the classroom.

Photo: Nicole Kreisberg of AIER presents her paper at the session “Measuring Impact of Various Approaches to Teaching Economics” on May 28, 2015.

AIER Participates in the Euro Challenge Competition

IMG_0367The Euro Challenge brings together high school students from around the country, and gives them a chance to think like an economist for the day, to “advise” policymakers about the Euro, and to propose solutions to current economic challenges. I had the privilege of judging the semi-finals this year, which were held in New York on April 30th.

The program was launched in 2005 by the Delegation of the European Union to the United States, in partnership with the Moody’s Foundation, and with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York serving as program advisor.

At the semi-finals, 25 teams from around the country made 15-minute presentations in which they were required to: (1) Describe the current economic situation in the Euro area; (2) Select one economic-related challenge confronting the Euro area as a whole, and pick one of the 18 member countries of the Euro area to illustrate that challenge; (3) Recommend a policy or policies for addressing the identified challenge in the selected country.

Panels of judges were assigned to assess five teams each, and select one that would advance to the final round. It was a hard task because all of the teams were thoroughly prepared, had clear understandings of economic challenges facing European Union member states, proposed feasible and fiscally responsible solutions to the economic challenges facing their selected country, and creatively delivered their presentations.

After deliberations, my panel of judges selected Naperville Central High School from Naperville, Illinois, to advance to the final round. In the afternoon, all the judges and all of the participants observed the final presentation of the five best teams. The overall winner of the Euro Challenge 2015 was Princeton High School, of Princeton, New Jersey.

As I learned from talking to students afterwards, the actual presentation that day was a culmination of a lot of preparatory work. They studied the economy of their selected country, and they reached out to the embassy and trade representative of that country in the U.S. to find out the challenges and the most current information that might not yet be covered in textbooks and other media. They collaborated, they divided tasks, and they delved into the data.

This kind of experiential learning and applied economic research is also at the heart of the AIER approach to internships, whether for high-school, undergraduate, or graduate students. As we found out at AIER, and as the Euro Challenge confirmed for me, active learning and teamwork are the best ways to entice the young generation of Americans to learn economics.

On the picture: the team from The High School for Math, Science and Engineering, New York City.

AIER Collaborates with the University of Sioux Falls

IMG_0831 The “Applied Economic Research” course at the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota was offered last fall as a unique opportunity to learn economic research tools from the real-life experts. Seven students signed up, and came to the first class prepared to take notes from their professor, Lorri Halverson. However, they were in for a surprise…

Almost a year before that first day of class, Prof. Halverson and Natalia Smirnova, of AIER, discussed the disconnect, which is typical of classrooms and internships. The internships are usually set up by an internship office on campus, rather than a professor of a class. Therefore, the two – the class and the internship – just go separate ways, even though the hope is the integration of the content. Out of this discussion, an idea was born.

The nugget of the idea is that the classroom walls are permeable. That is, classroom learning can support the internship experience and the internship experience can support the classroom learning. In our case, we brought AIER researchers into the classroom and the university professor into the workplace.

Students began with the applied economic research class at the university; however, the class was moderated by the researchers at AIER, in addition to their professor. Then the students and their professor came to the AIER campus to finish research projects they began in class. The projects were designed to support ongoing AIER research. When students arrived in Great Barrington they not only extended their knowledge of economics and methodology, they also learned about the intricacies of the economic think-tank’s everyday operations.

On that first day of class back in Sioux Falls, students were divided into two teams, each of which received a topic from the AIER researcher. The two projects for the 2014-2015 program were “Healthcare Costs and Outcomes,” and “Long-Term Unemployment.” Through the semester, the professor provided overall guidance and mentoring, while AIER researchers provided feedback on the literature review, methodology, data acquisition and analysis.

The integration between academics and practitioners increases students’ ability to apply theoretical knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world problems. In our case, AIER researchers actually were part of the class, and the students were part of our research team. This allowed for complete integration of the class syllabus and our research agenda. It is a unique example of cooperation with economists not usually seen in a classroom setting. This is innovation!

[Photo above, University of Sioux Falls students at AIER – from left to right – Laurel Unruh, Julie Westra, Matt Horan.]

How AIER Helped Me Learn to Help Others

IMG_0832As part of our academic year internship program, AIER hosted Williams College Winter Study course.  Below is the reflection from one of the students.

Written by Neo Mokgwathi, Williams College Senior

My Winter Study experience at AIER was potentially life changing.

I have long been concerned with issues of social justice. I thought I knew how I would pursue a career in defending the rights of marginalized people: human rights law, or work with a non-governmental organization, or an international organization. It seemed to me that the only way issues of social justice could be addressed was to find a political solution. Political solutions are, after all, what protect rights and resource distribution.

Meanwhile, the fields of economics and finance have been largely uninteresting to me, mostly because they are portrayed as fields concerned with wealth accumulation rather than social development. That is particularly true at a school like Williams, where our largest major is economics, and most people want to go into investment banking.

The Winter Study experience at the American Institute for Economic Research has really changed my perception of social justice, giving me another avenue to consider in my path to pursuing a social career. I always knew that NGOs and IOs were important for protecting people in need of someone to advocate for their protection. I now realize that a lot of social issues can also be resolved through economic means, specifically through business and finance.

I worked on the Money School project, a five-week financial education workshop series for low-income women. It showed me how important financial security is for marginalized groups. People are often exploited when they have no means of becoming financially independent. This program helped me see that economic empowerment is a pivotal tool for achieving social justice.

I had never thought of social justice solutions in that way. Now, I am so happy that AIER gave me the opportunity to see a different path to achieving goals that are so important to me. Perhaps instead of going to law school for human rights law, I will go to business school and look into community development. Or perhaps I will do both.

In short, I am excited to explore all of my options, and I am really grateful for how my experience at AIER contributed.

[Photo above, from left to right: Neo Mokgwathi (Williams College), Kathryn Dixon (Bard College), Pukitta Chunsuttiwat (Macalester College), Nicole Kreisberg (AIER)]

Building a Price Index, With Donuts and Mountain Dew

IMG_0742Students at Monument Mountain Regional High School are exploring a very interesting and creative twist on traditional economic indexing.

The Everyday Price Index, calculated each month by the American Institute for Economic Research, reflects price changes felt by Americans on a day-to-day basis, measuring the prices of those items that they buy frequently, such as food, utilities, fuel, and prescription drugs.

Students in Steve Estelle’s Financial Algebra class are going a step further, and creating a Student Price Index, focusing on goods and services that are most often purchased by high school students. Their teacher, Steve Estelle, attended AIER’s Teach-the-Teachers Initiative program in June 2014. He is now implementing the lesson he learned during the program.

First, students worked together to figure out which goods and services they buy at least once a week, and opted for a list that was a bit decadent, as you can see below. They decided in which stores in Great Barrington to record prices, and exactly which products to monitor, down to the size and packaging options of each brand.


Item — Quantity — Location
1. Gasoline – 87 unleaded — 15 gallons —  Cumberland Farms, Main Street
2. Chips – Lay’s Potato Chips, Sour Cream, Family Size — 2 bags  — Cumberland Farms, Main Street
3. Donuts — Regular — 6 — Price Chopper
4. Bagels — Regular — 2 — Price Chopper
5. Arizona Iced Tea – 16 oz can — 5 —  Price Chopper
6. Soda – Mountain Dew — 1 liter — 2  — Price Chopper
7. Coffee – medium cup, regular — 3  — Price Chopper
8. Bacon, 1 pound pack — 1 — Price Chopper
9. Movie ticket  — 1 — Triplex Movie Theater
10. Lighter — BIC 1 — Mobile Gas Station, Main Street


Over the next 10 weeks, they will be collecting price data from these four businesses, and they will use that information to create their Student Price Index, in much the same way AIER constructs the Everyday Price Index, showing the change in prices over time.

This exercise will teach students a memorable lesson in how to build a price index, and expose them to the process of gathering price data, and the limitations of this process and these data.

This is another example of how AIER helps teach teachers to craft interesting and engaging lessons, applying text-book material to real-life situations in a fun and creative way.