Outpacing Harvard

By Alyssa Cressotti ’08, ’18, and Antonia Gentile ’98, ’07

These Pace students are proving that hard work, dedication, and perseverance pay off in a competition of economic proportions. 

Nobody understands our passion and commitment to the Fed Team but us, and having that common goal and burning desire to win really links us,” explains Klejdja Qosja ’18, a co-captain on this year’s Federal Reserve Challenge Team, a sentiment that is strongly echoed by her teammates and faculty advisors.

This past December, Pace’s Federal Reserve Challenge Team won first place at the 14th annual national College Federal Reserve Challenge, an intense and highly-competitive event that tests college students on their understanding of the US economy, monetary policymaking, and the role of the Federal Reserve system. The Pace team, once again, beat out competition from prestigious institutions including Harvard and Princeton.

While the win at nationals this year was exciting, it was hardly an upset. This was the team’s third win in four years, having advanced to the Washington, DC, competition after winning at New York regionals one month prior.

The team comprises Dyson College of Arts and Sciences economics majors, all dedicated to the study of economic theory and practice. Co-captains Qosja, Marina Testani ’18, and Salil Ahuja ’19 worked closely with presenters Carly Aznavorian ’19 and Scarlett Bekus ’20, and their alternates Alexandra Bruno ’20 and Argenys Morban ’19, to oversee the hundreds of hours of research and presentation preparation. On their journey to nationals, the team was mentored by faculty advisors Associate Professor Greg Colman, PhD, and Clinical Assistant Professor Mark Weinstock, and received support from Professor and Chair of Economics Joseph Morreale, PhD, and Assistant Chair Anna Shostya, PhD.

Making a Win

“There has to be a certain sense of internal tension,” says Professor Weinstock of the team. He uses the metaphor of a team of horses harnessed together and running towards a common destination—all of the horses run fast because the horse next to them is running fast. “The students have to balance that tension—their desire to be the star, and the importance of being hitched, so to speak, to the rest of the team.”

“We’re naturally competitive,” says Morban of the team’s These Pace students are proving that hard work, dedication, and perseverance pay off in a competition of economic proportions. perseverance and commitment to winning. “We always motivate one another to develop a deeper understanding of the themes we cover in our presentation and gain a new perspective on something we perhaps weren’t aware of before. Our natural competitiveness increases the overall competence of the team and allows us to improve together.”

Bruno shares this sentiment with Morban and is able to joke about the friendly competition amongst teammates. “That’s 100% true! I would say we definitely have a perfect balance of being competitive and teamwork,” she says. “We are constantly trying to push each other to learn more while also trying to one-up each other.”

Tryouts to be part of the Pace Fed Team happen in April and after that, the team works together from June through hopefully December when finals are held in Washington, so hard work is the foundation for success. Students who want to be successful on the team need to be invigorated and energized by constant intellectual curiosity. Being ready to review and study research that’s been done by other economics experts is part of the gig, but what really makes a winning team is the desire to know more—to work hard and dig deep.

For Professor Colman, one of the most rewarding parts of working with the team is that they are all eager to learn. “They want to win, and they know they have to put in a lot of time to make that happen,” he says. Colman goes on to explain that the challenge gives students time to really live with the ideas and concepts until they invariably own them.

“I was excited when I heard about the intensity involved in the training—every day, nonstop,” says Ahuja. “I knew I had to take on something big to define me and my career in college, and I saw that potential in the Fed Team.”

As for the competitors from other schools, the Pace team’s intensive practice schedule spells trouble. “They never see us coming,” says Weinstock. “When they realize how prepared and well-trained our team is, it fills them with terror.”

A Coach’s Role

For months prior to competition season, the team works late into the evening—researching, revising, developing their presentation, and rehearsing—and the faculty is working right alongside them.

“Working with the team keeps us sharp,” says Weinstock. “We have to provide the students with the most current, the most state-of-the-art, knowledge we have, and we have to do it as if they’re colleagues and not just students.”

“They have to feel that they know as much as we know, if not more than that,” Weinstock says. “If they feel that, then there’s no limit to where they feel they can end up. Why shouldn’t they be competing against Harvard? Why shouldn’t they work at J.P. Morgan? Why shouldn’t they work at the Federal Reserve Bank as an analyst? They should be! If we tell the students that there’s a limit on their capacity for excellence—that they will never know as much as us—then they’re already in second place.”

“At times it can be frustrating when [the faculty] has criticism that takes us back to square one,” Testani says. “But, on the other hand, we know that they are doing the best thing for the team.”

“As an educator, you want to see them succeed. You want to see them do better than you,” echoes Professor Shostya. Shostya, who co-advised the team for years prior, has moved into another important role—moral support. “I check on them, I bring them chocolate and pretzels, I take the photos and make photo books,” she says, “and I hold their hands when necessary. ”

Carrying a Legacy

In addition to the stress and strife that comes with gearing up for a national academic competition, the Fed Team also had to contend with the loss of one of their own.

Cristian Figueroa, who had competed as part of the Pace team in the 2016 College Federal Reserve Challenge, passed away unexpectedly in June 2017. An international student from Venezuela, an economics major, and member of the Pforzheimer Honors College, he was highly respected and beloved by his professors and fellow students.

After the team won the regional competition and prior to nationals, the Economics department held a special memorial to honor Figueroa, which his parents and younger brother attended.

It was clear that their road to Washington would be marked by his legacy. When he passed, all three co-captains decided to dedicate this season of competition to him because of the impact he had on each of them.

Ahuja, a very close friend of Figueroa, says, “I knew every action with the Fed Team had to be made to make him proud. We worked hard to win it for him, especially since we fell just short last year.”

Qosja remembers Figueroa’s resolve for joining the team, even before he was selected, and how his determination for success and hard work ethic were contagious.

She also recalls, before he left for Venezuela last summer, that he said, “this year’s team is going to make it all the way.”

Going the Distance

The competitions—regionals at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and nationals before the Board of Governors in Washington—aren’t just proving grounds for the country’s best minds in economics, they’re also an opportunity to get scouted for employment. Oftentimes, members of the Board of Governors approach the competitors after a good showing and encourage them to apply for open positions within the Fed Reserve system. The opportunities don’t stop after the big win—they continue long after graduation.

“I was so happy that I was on the Fed Team! At the last two job interviews I went on, the interviewers asked me about things that I did on the Fed Team every single day, so that really helped me to relax,” says Aznavorian. For the record, she was offered both jobs.

“It feels great to brag about the win in interviews,” confesses Ahuja. And he’s right to brag because the work he and his teammates have put into winning define what it means to be an experiential learner, something that Pace prides itself on.

“While hard work, discipline, and perseverance are some of the best and most transferrable traits, they are also the hardest to instill,” Qosja says. “Those traits are what make our team stand out more than any Ivy League school in competition, and what sets each of us apart when we apply to internships and jobs and start our careers.”

“When I tell people that we beat Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and NYU, their ears prick up,” says Bruno. “I feel like people don’t expect that from Pace kids. At the end of the day, the name of the school is absolutely meaningless; it really boils down to your work ethic.”

“Students at these more prestigious schools are just like our students, except we work harder and we want it more,” says Weinstock.

Gendered Economics

At competitions, the Pace team is typically one of the only teams that is predominantly female, a surprising fact because across the US, only 30 percent of students studying economics are women. At Pace, economics isn’t a boys’ club, in fact, our population of economics majors is pretty evenly split between men and women. “Our team does not merely include female students, it comprises mainly female students, and is captained by female students, and has been for years,” wrote Colman in his letter to the editor of The Financial Times, a response to journalist Gillian Tett’s column on why economics is still a man’s world.

Where Are They Now?

Former Pace University students, Yuliya Palianok, Katherine Craig, and Jordan Jhamb.

For these Pace alumni, their experiences on the Fed Team helped propel them into professional success at the very place they began. In addition to having participated on the Fed Team, most alumni come back to campus to help the current team prepare for competition.

Yuliya Palianok ’17
Rotational Analyst, Federal Reserve Bank of New York
In the summer following her big win as part of Pace’s Fed Team, Palianok worked as a summer analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Since graduation, she’s moved into a full-time position as a rotational analyst.

Katherine Craig ’16
Analyst, Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Following a two-year run as a presenter and co-captain on Pace’s winning Fed Team, Craig took a position as an analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shortly after graduating from Pace.

Jordan Jhamb ’15
Financial Analyst, Federal Reserve Bank of New York
While pursuing his degree at Pace, he co-authored several economic papers which were published in the International Journal of Health and Economic Development and other periodicals. Jhamb joined the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, first as a supervisory analyst and is currently as a financial analyst.