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The Professor Is In: Joseph Morreale

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Distinguished Professor Economics Chair Joseph Morreale, PhD, talks about his current research, the Fed challenge, how economics has evolved in his decades in academia, and much more in this month’s edition of The Professor Is In!

Is there anything you’re working on right now that you’re particularly excited about?

I’m working on a piece of research that is supposed to be published in a book that’s coming out through the law school—the topic that I selected was on the effect of climate change on mass migration. There’s a whole issue about what happens when, for example, a tsunami hits an island nation, and people have to move permanently within their country, and maybe even decide to move to another country. How does this nation, as well as other nations in the world, deal with that?

I’ve been working on this research for awhile, and I’m also working on the effects of climate change in terms of inequality within the world, as well as within nations. What I found interesting is that developed countries contribute the most to global warming and climate change, but it is poorer countries that bear the impact. This fact both highlights and exacerbates the real inequality in the world.

A major source of pride at the University is our consistently high performance in the annual Fed Challenge. As chair of the economics department, can you shed some light on the process behind the success?

My colleagues, Mark Weinstock and Greg Colman, work with the students day after day after day. It’s a six month process that starts in the summer. We just went to the first round on Wednesday, 10/23 in the New York Fed district. If we win the regional competition, we will go to nationals in Washington, DC in late November. This then, would be our sixth time competing in the national competition.

How does the team work? The process starts with trials in the late spring for the next year. Students who aspire to join the team have to do a presentation, and Professors Weinstock and Colman and the current team decide who seems like they would be a very good candidate for the team. They also select students for a research team, which is usually about 15 students. So there are actually 20 students who are involved—the five who are going to present, and about 15 who do the research.

The team is then required to go through months and months of preparation. The research group behind the team works with them. It’s very intensive—they meet three times a week, and then the weekends, to get them prepared. If they go to the national finals in Washington, DC, they actually compete in front of members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. They have to present their monetary policy proposals and answer questions.

It’s a very rigorous training that Mark and Greg do. We have won the nationals three times, which is unheard of. We’ve won the regionals 5 times. We compete against elite schools such as Yale, Princenton, Columbia, and NYU. It’s just amazing to see what our students can do with the right training and commitment.

How Has Economics Education Changed Over the Past Few Decades?

These days it is incredibly important for students to get some education in quantitative methods and application of statistical analysis to real-world problems. In the past that had not been true. Now, undergraduates really have to get that kind of training.

The world has become increasingly data-driven. What I also feel is necessary—not only do we have to teach students how to use statistics and various programs, but they have to understand the meaning that comes out of this analysis, and also be able to critique it. So we have a real emphasis on critical reading, critical writing, and critical analysis.

The second thing, which we are very proud of, is that we’ve been able to get many more women involved in studying economics. About half of our 300 majors are women, which is amazing for a traditionally male-dominated field. Our students are also very multi-cultural. When I come to the first day of class, there will be 30 students who speak 20 different languages—it is amazing.

What Do You Like Most about Working at Pace?

One is the excitement of teaching students, many of whom are hungry to learn, and many are first-generation university students, just like I was. Neither my parents or my grandparents, who migrated to the US, went to college.

The other thing I love about Pace is the collegiality that faculty has, and I have had lots of friends over the years. We all really do try to work hard both for the students and the institution. I also like to see the newer, younger faculty members coming in. I love the fact that colleagues are so open—we discuss things, and we try to move the institution in the right direction.

The third thing I love doing is research. I love to just cloister away and focus on a topic, like I’m doing now with climate change. I love it because it keeps me up to date on what’s going on in the world and in my field, and it also brings new ideas and thoughts back to the classroom to engage students with. I have been in academia a very long time; in 2020 it will be 50 years, and I still love it!

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