FSB team overcomes time crunch, COVID to take 4th in College Fed Challenge

FSB team recording their presentation

A lot of long hours and hard work paid off for a team of Farmer School students as they tackled the College Fed Challenge this fall and came away tied for fourth place out of more than 80 teams from across the nation that took part in the competition.

The College Fed Challenge is an annual competition put on by the Federal Reserve Board and co-sponsored by several Federal Reserve Banks. In previous years, colleges wishing to compete had to be located in one of several federal districts that took part, but that excluded large portions of the U.S. from the competition. A change to the rules this year allowed teams from outside participating districts to take part in an “at-large” district.

Assistant professor of economics Jonathan Wolff learned of the change this summer and quickly put together a team of students -- Mitch Boice, Julia Draeb, Micah Fields, CJ Walker, and Noah Tilton. “We were meeting three or four times a week for two to three hours each night from late September into early October. The students were reading a ton of different economics papers, I was making presentations regularly and then they were practicing presentations,” Wolff recalled.

“We didn't have the team together until late August, giving us only six weeks to prepare our presentation. More established schools that participate spend months working on the challenge, and those students have to take a class usually the semester before in preparation,” Boice remarked. 

The competition has the student teams assessing the current challenges facing the U S economy, and then advising the Federal Open Market Committee, a group of macro economists who set policy for the Federal Reserve. The competition has two components: a video presentation from all of the teams in October, followed by the finalist teams doing a 15-minute live Q&A with the economists in November.

The FSB group battled through the short timeline, the students working through their class workloads, and four of the five students contracting COVID-19, to join the competition at the last moment – almost literally. “We didn't film our first submission until three hours before it was due,” Wolff said. “We did two takes and then we had, by the end of the second take, we had 15 minutes left to submit.”

The Farmer School team was among 18 that moved on to the next round to take questions from the Fed economists.

“They were asking questions about everything from the role of the Federal Reserve and combating inequality, different unconventional monetary policies that the Fed has pursued since the onset of the pandemic, questions specifically about the policy recommendations that we had made in the first round, just kind of poking and prodding to test the students' understanding of their own recommendations,” Wolff said.

In the end, the student learned that they had tied for fourth place, an impressive finish for the first time in the Fed Challenge. “Going forward, I think the sky's the limit with this. I think if we were to keep doing this and keep investing in it, I think in a few years we could be real contenders for a top three spot for years to come,” Wolff said.

“The team I had the opportunity to work with were all incredible individuals, and in all honesty, are some of my closest friends to this day. Ending up as a national finalist out of 85 universities across the country is such a surreal result,” Walker noted. 

“It was truly an incredible experience, not only because of the opportunity to learn about monetary policy and the Federal Reserve but also because of my astounding team. I got to work alongside four of the most intelligent and driven people to analyze the US economy and the risks that this pandemic has imposed,” Draeb said. “With the incredible guidance of Professor Wolff, my team created and defended a monetary policy recommendation that won our region and placed us in 4th place overall. I am so proud of my team for spearheading this challenge for Miami.”

“I think reaching the final round of the competition reflected how hard the team worked and how prepared everyone was for each stage,” Tilton remarked. “Not only did I learn a lot about the U.S economy and the Federal Reserve, but also how smart and driven many of the other Miami students are and what is possible when a team of great individuals comes together to work on a common goal.”

Watch the team's submitted presentation