The “Applied Economic Research” course at the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota was offered last fall as a unique opportunity to learn economic research tools from the real-life experts. Seven students signed up, and came to the first class prepared to take notes from their professor, Lorri Halverson. However, they were in for a surprise…
Almost a year before that first day of class, Prof. Halverson and Natalia Smirnova, of AIER, discussed the disconnect which is typical of classrooms and internships. The internships are usually set up by an internship office on campus, rather than a professor of a class. Therefore, the two – the class and the internship – just go separate ways, even though the hope is the integration of the content. Out of this discussion, an idea was born.
The nugget of the idea is that the classroom walls are permeable. That is, classroom learning can support the internship experience and the internship experience can support the classroom learning. In our case, we brought AIER researchers into the classroom and the university professor into the workplace.
Students began with the applied economic research class at the university; however, the class was moderated by the researchers at AIER, in addition to their professor. Then the students and their professor came to the AIER campus to finish research projects they began in class. The projects were designed to support ongoing AIER research. When students arrived in Great Barrington they not only extended their knowledge of economics and methodology, they also learned about the intricacies of the economic think-tank’s everyday operations.
On that first day of class back in Sioux Falls, students were divided into two teams, each of which received a topic from the AIER researcher. The two projects for the 2014-2015 program were “Healthcare Costs and Outcomes,” and “Long-Term Unemployment.” Through the semester, the professor provided overall guidance and mentoring, while AIER researchers provided feedback on the literature review, methodology, data acquisition and analysis.
The integration between academics and practitioners increases students’ ability to apply theoretical knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world problems. In our case, AIER researchers actually were part of the class, and the students were part of our research team. This allowed for complete integration of the class syllabus and our research agenda. It is a unique example of cooperation with economists not usually seen in a classroom setting. This is innovation!
Photo: University of Sioux Falls students – from left to right – Laurel Unruh, Julie Westra, Matt Horan.