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Students Explore Economics Career Paths During DivEc

People discussing at table at DivEc

College students from around the region visited the Richmond Fed recently to participate in the Bank’s fourth annual Diverse Economics Conference (DivEc) and learn about the many career paths an economics degree offers.

More than 85 people attended in person, with a few dozen more participating virtually, to hear from professors, fellow economics majors, and several professional economists who have thriving careers in the public and private sectors.

“Being able to listen to the panelists and the speakers from different walks of life, have different interests, opinions and values, yet still fall under the umbrella of economics, was very refreshing,” one student shared. Another student attendee shared: “I got to see the diversity in the field of economics, which was great. [Before the conference], I was confused about the career path I wanted to pursue, but I am very inspired by the panelists, and now I am clear about where I want to go.”

Those conference-goers and others spent the morning touring the Bank and networking over lunch. The formal program launched in the early afternoon with a welcome from leaders of the School of Business at the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University. Both universities served as the Bank’s co-hosts for the conference.

Miguel (Mickey) Quiñones, dean of the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond, and Naomi Boyd, dean of VCU’s Business School, detailed how relevant economics is to business and to daily life. “The field of economics is critical for understanding some of the biggest challenges we have today,” Quiñones said. “If you think about climate change, social inequality, economic mobility, national security …. no matter what you’re interested in, economics can be a conduit for you to make an impact.”

Keynote speaker Dana M. Peterson, chief economist at The Conference Board, shared similar sentiments, while encouraging the students to remain inquisitive, seek out mentors, and find sponsors in their future workplaces who can open doors along their career paths.

“Network and make sure you know people who can get you to the next level,” she said. “Also join economics groups. And then the final thing — many of us say to ourselves, ‘I don’t really know enough.’ If you don’t know something, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help from your network, from people who are your sponsors.”

During a panel discussion moderated by Richmond Fed Director of Research Kartik B. Athreya, students also received insights from economics professionals about the ways the tools of economics can be used. Panelists were Jevay Grooms, assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Howard University; Shakun Mago, professor of Economics, and Joseph A. Jennings, chair in business, at the University of Richmond; and Faraz Usmani, Applied Microeconomist and Research, at Mathematica.

Each of the panelists shared what led them to explore the field of economics.

Usmani related how a seminal 1988 paper by Robert Lucas resonated with him when he was a student, and influenced him to continue studying economics. In particular, Usmani referenced Lucas’ statement that “The consequences for human welfare involved in questions like these [about economic development] are simply staggering: Once one starts to think about them, it is hard to think about anything else.”

Grooms decided to change her path from law to economics when she realized “economics could be used to help solve social issues as well — it can be used to address inequality,; it can be used to advance health care in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Mago shared that she originally wanted to be a journalist, but her high school teacher showed her that what she was learning in their economics class connected directly to the news she was reporting.

The students then had an opportunity to participate in breakout sessions that gave them exposure to economics-related career paths in the public sector, private sector and at the Federal Reserve, and an idea of which graduate school options could bolster their resumes.

“It was wonderful to engage with students and see their enthusiasm for pursuing a career in economics grow as they listened to the speakers,” Athreya said. “The Richmond Fed wants to help welcome new voices into economics so we can address some of our toughest challenges. The more diversity we have in the profession, the more we can do to foster understanding and positive change.”

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Jim Strader (804) 697-8956 (804) 332-0207 (mobile)