NU team advances to nationals in economic competition

    Northwestern University will represent the Chicago Federal Reserve district at the national college Fed Challenge competition in Washington, D.C., in December after clinching victory in the regional contest on Monday.

    The Northwestern team of five undergraduates led by Mark Witte, team faculty adviser and distinguished senior lecturer in economics, beat contenders from 17 Midwestern universities to represent the Chicago Federal Reserve district at the national round for the sixth year in a row. The university has won the national competition three times so far.

    The Northwestern team comprises Weinberg juniors Daniel Wolf, captain, and Lucas Zalduendo, Weinberg senior William Thompson, McCormick and Weinberg senior Ravi Umarji, and Weinberg sophomore Brian Levin. Witte described the group as a “nice mix of talent.”

    “They’re competitive young people,” he said. “They like going at it and showing other people they’re smarter and better formed, and more driven.”

    During the national competition on Dec. 1-2, the students will be challenged to apply macroeconomics and monetary policy theories to real-life economic situations. During the first round, teams propose solutions to the economic problems of today, such as unemployment, in front of a panel of judges from the Fed’s own economists.

    The Northwestern group displays its data in a power point presentation and analyzes the Fed’s policy and functions. The Northwestern team simulates a Fed open market committee meeting during which economists debate what the U.S. monetary policy should be. Research assistants at Northwestern have helped put together the presentation, Witte said.

    The second part of the contest is a question and answer session with the judges.

    “We don’t know what questions will be,” said Brian Levin, who plays Donald Cohn, Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors. “You have to be spot on in order to win.”

    Levin is the only sophomore in the group. With a strong incumbency advantage, openings on the team are rare. When there is an open spot, Witte said, it is advertised on listservs and people interview for it.

    Northwestern’s participation in the Fed Challenge began six years ago, when Joshua Plabner, a student of Mark Witte’s, suggested that the university participate in a new national competition.

    “We did, we won, we’ve been doing it ever since,” Witte said.

    In the past five years at the national Fed Challenge, Northwestern has won three times and Harvard has won twice.

    “We’re looking forward to beating Harvard this year,” Levin said.

    The winning team shares a $50,000 scholarship sponsored by the Moody Foundation.


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