AIER Teaches Tomorrow’s Economists

E.C. Harwood’s Legacy
AIER’s founder Colonel E.C. Harwood emphasized the importance of what he called 'field work' in any research project. He embraced John Dewey’s educational philosophy, Dewey being a pioneer of constructivist learning, or learning by doing — what nowadays the education literature calls experiential learning. At AIER today, we embrace this approach by engaging our interns hands-on in economic research.

The National Society for Experiential Education has developed what it calls eight principles of good practice for all experiential-learning activities: the pillars of effective, high-quality learning experiences throughout an internship. AIER’s academic-year internship program embraces and applies these principles in a systematic way summarized in table 1.

     Table 1. Principles of good experiential learning practice at AIER

 

Collaborative Approach
Our academic-year internship program provides students of local high schools and colleges with the opportunity to engage in the economic research and the day-to-day operations of a think tank. Every year, we host about 20 to 25 students who come to campus one day per week at times coordinated with their counselors and teachers. Our institutional partners include a diverse group of public and private high schools (Monument Mountain Regional High School, Lenox High School, Miss Hall’s, Berkshire School) and colleges (Williams College, Bard College at Simon’s Rock).

The collaboration aligns well with AIER’s educational mission to create comprehensive programs for teachers, students, professionals, and other interested individuals. When working with students, our staff economists bring them into ongoing research projects, which allows them to contribute to a research agenda. This kind of collaborative arrangement engages students in topical economic research, walks them through the research process, and helps them broaden their knowledge while gaining some practical experience.

Berkshire School Students Present Their Research
One of our institutional partners is the Berkshire School. Its Advanced Math/Science Research program has students intern with a professional scientist or qualified mentor to conduct real-world research in one of AMSR’s three tracks: laboratory science, economics, or engineering. AIER collaborates with the Berkshire School in supporting the economics track.

This academic year, five students from the Berkshire School worked with AIER Senior Research Fellow Max Gulker as their mentor. With our help, the students selected projects at the beginning of the year and saw them through to completion:

  • Victoria Barnett studied the relationship of sleep to economic productivity. She conducted a survey of 150 students at her school and found that students reporting they slept more had higher GPAs.
  • Jackson Brex researched the consequences for England of the Brexit vote, which separated it from the European Union. He quantified the costs to foreign investment and financial markets, while noting that those favoring Brexit had primarily noneconomic reasons. He insists his last name is a mere coincidence.
  • Sam Gatsos explored the Bank of Japan’s current attempt to escape decades of economic stagnation through a policy of negative short-term and positive fixed long-term interest rates on bonds. The policy is largely without precedent, having only been used once by the United States under very different circumstances after the Second World War.
  • James Brady Wilson examined the traits of successful entrepreneurs and how these ideas might be used to encourage more entrepreneurship in the United States.
  • Michelle Zhou looked at entrepreneurship in China, discussing the country’s recent explosion in economic growth and the challenges it still faces. These challenges include government interference and a cultural norm encouraging people to conform to the actions of others and fit into groups.

At the conclusion of the internship, students presented their projects to the staff. We converted AIER’s auditorium into a presentation hall where students displayed poster boards, staff asked questions and critiqued the research results, and students defended their work. The research fair culminated the on-campus part of the internship. Next, the students presented at the Berkshire School at the Advanced Research and Independent Study Exhibition.

An important educational tool, and an important principle of a good program, is a reflection at the conclusion of an activity. To motivate students to reflect on their year-long experience at AIER, we ask them to fill out an evaluation form, which we discuss with them at the last day of the internship. Here are several quotes from the Berkshire School interns’ feedback forms:

  • “During my AIER internship I got an amazing insight into what higher level economic research is like.… This program … was certainly a large step up from structured lectures.… I developed a better understanding of not only economics but how to organize and plan larger, long term projects. I also learned how to work in a more ‘real world’ setting where I have more accountability for my work.” —Samuel Gatsos
  • “During my time at AIER this year, I learned two especially valuable skills that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. One if which is the ability to conduct research for a large-scale project.… Perhaps more important than the ability to research effectively was my new and improved ability to manage my time.” — Jackson Brex
  • “I learned a lot about what goes into a research paper.… I learned a lot about writing and I feel that I am a better writer now. This was the first time that I really saw that the best writing comes in the rewriting. From this I also learned better time management.” – Victoria Barnett
  • “During the AIER internship, I learned a multitude of valuable lessons and skills. First off, taking initiative and being independent was imperative in order to advance my project. I also learned that it is important to meet deadlines, because if you do not, then it is incredible easy to fall behind.” — James Brady Wilson
  • “I learned how to write an academic paper in Economics, source data, analyze data, and write literature review.” — Michelle Zhou

Looking to the Future
As we continue building collaborative relationships with educational institutions, we are closing the gap between the academic knowledge acquired in the classroom and the practical world of applied economic research. Our evidence shows that students will carry many skills they gain through our experiential-learning internship program into their future academic endeavors and into the workplace.

Bibliography:
Dewey, John. 1938. Experience and Education. New York: The Macmillan Company.
Handy, Rollo. 1983. “E.C. Harwood’s Vision and Its Realization.” Economic Education Bulletin, 23(11) November. Great Barrington, MA: American Institute for Economic Research.
National Society for Experiential Education. 1998. “Eight Principles of Good Practice for All Experiential Learning Activities.” NSEE Annual Meeting, Norfolk, VA. Updated December 2013. http://www.nsee.org/8-principles.

Picture: Students from the Berkshire School at AIER.
From L to R: Max Gulker of AIER, James Brady Wilson, Sam Gatsos, Victoria Barnett, Jackson Brex, Michelle Zhou.