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Posts from the ‘Education’ 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’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.

Teaching Fiscal Policy in a High School Government Class

ed1As a follow-up to the Summer 2014 Teach-the-Teachers Initiative (TTI), we continue to visit the participants’ classrooms to observe the implementation of lessons learned at AIER. On October 30, I observed the Advanced Placement Government and Politics class at the Pomperaug High School in Southbury, Connecticut. The topic of the day was “Fiscal Policy”.

I have read lots of economic education literature that documents that the combination of discussion-based critical inquiry paired with the hands-on approach of simulation exercises improves class participation and students’ understanding. The day I spent observing a Pomperaug provides one more piece of evidence to this body of knowledge.

The discussion was seeded by the teacher who introduced the concepts of government expenditures, government revenues, debt and deficit and was followed by student inquiry about the details they did not understand. The main portion of the class was then spent by simulating the federal government budgeting process using the online portal ( Students worked individually, with occasional discussion about the unfamiliar terms with peers and the teacher.

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2014 Summer Fellowship Practicum Program

By Natalia Smirnova, Assistant Director of Research and Education & Michelle Ryan, Education Programs Coordinator

“AIER provides a great learning environment where people always have a passionate discussion on economic and other social issues.”

AIER’s Summer Fellowship Practicum is an experiential learning opportunity for students interested in applied economic research. The program is competitive, with an 18 percent acceptance rate, and draws students from some of the best universities and programs across the country.

During the eight-week Summer Fellowship Practicum, interns are matched with AIER researchers and immerse themselves in current AIER research projects. The young scholars’ work is significant and is central to the successful completion of each project.

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Our Interns are Prepared for the Future

AIER’s Academic Year Interns have finished their school year. As part of our review of each intern, the student and his or her supervising researcher evaluate knowledge and technical skill development and an assessment of the program itself. This process reflects both our dedication to providing a meaningful educational experience for our students and our commitment to actively seek input on how we can improve our program.

The topics researched by our interns varied from financial literacy to the Federal Reserve System and from college loans to retirement drawdown strategies. When asked to describe their learning outcomes, our interns stated:

“(I) have gained a substantial amount of technical knowledge regarding the Federal Reserve and the commercial banking system.” (Bradley Oerth, Bard College at Simon’s Rock)

“The seminars that were provided helped me with figuring out what I need to know about finances.” (Kayla Lloyd, Miss Halls School)

I learned different methods of conducting research and different tests for data such as Monte Carlo simulations or using historical data.” (Andrew Krom, Mt. Everett High School)

In addition to the content focus of their work, our interns have enhanced their technical skills. For many of our students, the AIER internship was their first experience with learning to use analytical software, databases, and research methods.

It also exposed them to working in a professional office environment. Learning how to ask for assistance, disagree with a “supervisor,” and voice suggestions to improve a procedure and/or managing a long-term assignment were all noted by the students as examples of skills they developed through this experience.

Two of our interns, Bradley Oerth and Andrew Krom, have been cited for their contributions to a recent AIER publication “Can the Fed Tame Inflation?” Another intern, Chloe Kim, was inspired to create a blog to promote the financial literacy to her peers. These are impressive accomplishments!

AIER’s emphasis on interns developing independent analysis abilities and technical skills are consistent with the Common Core Standards being adopted across the nation: Students will learn to use cogent reasoning and evidence collection skills that are essential for success in college, career, and life.

As a result of their internship experiences at AIER, our students are better prepared to meet the new academic and interpersonal demands they will face in their future education and professional careers.

We interviewed some of our interns so they could tell us what else they’ve learned during their time here at AIER. Watch the video below.


Providing Financial Knowledge to High-School Students Improves Their Well-being

051914 Miss HallsNew research published in the March 2014 issue of the Journal of Economic Literature demonstrates the economic value of providing instruction for young people in finance and economics. The study shows that “providing pre-labor market financial knowledge to [high-school graduates] improves their well-being by…82 percent of their initial wealth.” That is a huge impact! We should all feel a sense of urgency to educate young people.

On May 15th AIER staff participated in a financial literacy seminar for Miss Hall’s School in Pittsfield, MA. The seminar was the culmination of the project designed and coordinated by two students from Miss Hall’s School, Hallie and Chloe, during their academic year internship at AIER. In the course of their research, the girls found that Massachusetts fails to provide high school students with financial literacy education. That inspired them to organize a half day event for their schoolmates to learn about banking and budgeting.

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What Do Economists Do Outside Academia?

Natalia SmirnovaAmerican Institute for Economic Research organized a panel during the 2014 annual conference of the Eastern Economic Association (EEA) to address this question: what do economists do outside of academia? Six panelists (listed below) came together from various professional backgrounds to show newly minted economists that there is life for economists beyond academia.

Representatives of the World Bank, SAS Corporation, banking industry and small consulting practices, as well as AIER shared insights on work assignments, office environments, and interview processes. Attendees were interested in strategies to find positions outside academia, the availability of special training and recruitment programs, and work-family balance. The experience showed me the importance of discussing the intricacies of out-of-grad school job search strategies, career advancement opportunities, and salary level ranges with graduates as they try to navigate the economists’ job market.

Mentoring and advising young people in the early stages of their careers is crucial to help them see that an economics degree can do more than contribute to theory-building. At AIER, we hope to help re-envision PhD programs so that they can adapt to the societal needs of the 21st century. In the meantime, we are focusing on of the practical training of high-school, college, and university students by providing academic year and summer internships, fellowship practicums, workshops, and lectures. We believe that our efforts are supporting and encouraging those of our students who are heading into both academic and non-academic careers.


  1. Howard Freeman, Managing Principal, Smithridge Advisors,
    “Value of an Economist within a Financial Firm”
  2. Natalia V. Smirnova, American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), pictured above,
    “Economics Think-Tanks: Much More Research, No Teaching”
  3. Carl Weinberg, Chief Economist, High Frequency Economics,
    “Beyond the Ivory Tower: Public Service to Private Consulting”
  4. Shahrokh Fardoust, President & CEO, International Economic Consultants, LLC; Director of Strategy and Operations (retired), World Bank,
    “Career Opportunities in International Organizations: The Case of the World Bank”
  5. Kenneth Sanford, SAS Institute,
    “From Economists to Data Scientists: How our Discipline Can Participate in the Growth of Analytics”
  6. John R. Moreau, Consumer Product Manager with UMB Bank in Kansas City, MO
    “Career Opportunities in Quantitative Analysis”

Bridging the Gap: Rigorous, Guided Internship Experience

Pro Vita at AIERThere is much deliberation in the academic and business worlds about whether internships are extensions of classroom learning. One camp contends that internships bring connections to the real world by supplementing the material covered in the classroom. Others are convinced that during internships other valuable life, work, and ethics skills are learned that have little to do with the intellectual exercises in the seminar room on campus. One author argues that “without rigorous, guided reflection on the [internship] experience,” students “generally do not learn much beyond what one gets from a part-time job.”

AIER internships seek to bridge the gap between academic and hands-on learning through active reflection. During our latest one-week internship program with the Berkshire School Pro Vita program, six students worked with AIER researchers. While one week is not much time to gain a deep understanding of an economic issue, AIER staff members defined small parts of their projects to be tackled by students, created a step-by-step guide for every day of the week, and availed themselves as mentors – making their projects doable and the experience enjoyable.

One student was asked to critique the proposed new methodology for an index; another dissected the results of our survey. Meanwhile, one student gathered data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and others created tables and charts for internal reports. The students’ work students was meaningful and gave them the opportunity to acquire new skills, such as building spreadsheet formulas, charts and graphs, analytical writing, critical thinking, and self-discipline.

At the conclusion of the internship, students presented their research in an open forum. We put them through a “reflection” exercise similar to that of a classroom discussion. We asked what skills they acquired, and challenged them to identify the positive and negative features of our program. Their reflections showed that the mentorship relationship with their respective supervisors taught them about work ethic, prioritizing, and time management.

As an employer and a placement site, we learned about how to make internships valuable to both us and the students. The experience helped our staff sharpen their own focus, manage a new person’s expectations and skills, and accommodate their inquiries. And in turn, the interns got real skills that are transferable to their future academic endeavors and professional careers. This kind of win-win situation allows AIER to be among the top institutions in the country whose internship program both shows students an accurate view of the profession and engages them in real-world assignments that will shape their careers for the better.