In front of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, St Lawrence's College Fed Challenge team poses with Tom Sapio '88, a partner at Cantor Fitzgerald (left), and the bank's chief economist, Harvey Goldsmith (bowtie).

Persons of Interest

Alumni help students prep for the "Fed Challenge" panel on Federal Reserve interest rates

Ryan Deuel

Students taking professor of economics Cynthia Bansak’s Monetary Policy course last fall got more than just a lesson on the Federal Reserve. They got to present to the Fed themselves on issues of monetary policy as part of the College Fed Challenge. 

The Fed Challenge is a competition designed to bring real-world economics into the classroom. Teams play the role of monetary policymakers by analyzing economic conditions and recommending a course for monetary policy. Last fall’s scenario was a mock meeting of the Federal Reserve Board at which each “board member” was required to weigh in on whether or not the Fed should raise interest rates, which it did a month later.

As a former economist at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Bansak no doubt greatly enhanced the students’ understanding of Fed policy during the course. However, the instruction didn’t stop in Hepburn Hall.

In mid-October, Bansak and Lynn Smith Fox, spouse of President William L. Fox ’75, who also served as a senior official of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, took the students to New York City, where they presented to a number of St. Lawrence alumni. It was an opportunity for the students to develop their presentation skills, discuss their understanding of monetary policy and receive feedback from those working in finance. 

One of those alumni was Tom Sapio ’88, who is a partner at Cantor Fitzgerald in Manhattan. While people can go to the Web to find just about anything, including information on monetary policy, Sapio said the St. Lawrence students impressed him and his colleagues, including Harvey Goldsmith, their chief economist.

“They came to our office in New York and presented to me and several of my coworkers,” he said. “Then 10 days later, we did a Skype call (during which) they presented again to a boardroom full of Cantor reps. You couldn’t differentiate between the students and people in our industry for 15 years.”

In addition to Sapio, students presented to Chris Yoshida ’00, head of global rate sales at Deutsche Bank; Vince Pacilio ’84, executive vice president of global client management at The Bank of New York Mellon; Michelle Celestino ’90, senior managing director at First Republic Bank; John Steinhardt ’75, founder and CEO of KLS Diversified Asset Management; and Dave Wiederecht ’78, president and CIO of investment strategies for GE Asset Management.

Later in October, a select team of students returned to New York City to take part in the initial round of the Fed Challenge, where they competed against 40 colleges and universities and advanced to the semifinal round in the Liberty Street division—the first time St. Lawrence had advanced since entering the competition in 2008. The final team that competed included Zane Belden ’18 of Queensbury, New York; Edward (Frazier) Bostwick ’17 of Katonah, New York; Phillip (Miles) Crump ’16 of Baltimore, Maryland; Sarah Pyc ’16 of Buffalo, New York; and Collin Shapiro ’16 of Greenwich, Connecticut.

Before heading to the semifinals on Nov. 16, the students continued to hone their presentation skills by Skyping into Sapio and others for their continued feedback.

“I really tried to stress to the students that they had studied and learned from Professor Bansak, that they should believe in their collective knowledge in this field and present to the Fed with that confidence,” Sapio said. “After they presented, one of my colleagues commented that they had the skill and knowledge of a real advisory company. For me, the best part was spending time with, getting to know and becoming friends with Professor Bansak and her students. This was a genuinely nice group of people, and I feel lucky to now consider all of them my friends.”

The team earned an honorable mention at the semifinal competition, where Manhattan College and Pace University advanced to the finals. “They should be proud of themselves after reading the comments and receiving a near-perfect score of 19 out of 20,” Bansak said.

Class member Kathleen Tuttle ’16, an economics major from New Canaan, Connecticut, said that instead of just learning in class, students actively came to their own decisions, prepared for their speeches and worked together as a team.

“The best part of working with alumni in New York City was having the opportunity to meet such smart, generous alumni, who were willing to give our class such thoughtful feedback on our Fed policy recommendations,” she said. “Training in New York also tested our presentation skills, networking abilities and knowledge, while it also expanded our horizons to what firms in the market are actually doing every day.”

Frazier, who served on the final team, agreed.

“The best part about the training in New York was the alumni. It’s unbelievable how gracious they were to us,” he said. “They went out of their way to help us out. I felt pride for myself and in St. Lawrence when presenting in front of the alumni. This trip solidified my understanding of what it means to be a Laurentian for Life."