MRU students win second place in the 2021 Econ Games

2021 Participating Schools.

Mount Royal students recently placed second in the international Econ Games. 

Aymie Haslam (policy studies), Diamond Reid (policy studies), Elliot Ryland (sociology), Janine Shen (accounting) and Thomas Tram (accounting), also known as “The Dismal Scientists” team, won second place in the Econ Games, an international economics competition held from February to March this year.

The Econ Games are an experiential learning opportunity created to allow students to apply their economic education in a real-world setting. The current version of the games was created and led by two award-winning educators, Dr. Abdullah Al-Bahrani, PhD, associate professor of economics and director of the Center for Economic Education at Northern Kentucky University, and Dr. Darshak Patel, PhD, senior lecturer of economics and the Director of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business and Economics.

This year the games brought together 266 students from 18 universities from the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. Lavinia Moldovan, assistant professor of economics, was the faculty advisor for Mount Royal University. When Moldovan found out that the games would be held online this year she immediately recognized that it would be a fantastic opportunity for students to strengthen their hands-on data analysis skills, to tell relevant stories with data and to get to know like-minded students from around the world.

Five more MRU students worked together as “The Aces”: Dhafnie Basilio (policy studies), Shabnam Sangha (policy studies), Hanson Lui (business), Gayatri Rikhi (business) and David Higham (business). Both teams completed the weekly online challenges starting at the beginning of February in addition to their regular course load. They learned new skills, got to know each other, and identified each team member’s strengths in the process.

Elliot Ryland was impressed by how well-organized the games were and by its supportive atmosphere. “Yes, it was a competition, but I had several people reach out to me for help from other teams (non-MRU ones) and I would in turn reach out for help from them. I always got a response. It was a lot of long days when the challenges were due, and it certainly required a substantial amount of time dedication, but I loved every minute of it and really enjoyed learning new tools and refining old ones. Further, as I said before, I am proud that our little econ department that doesn't even have a degree program was able to beat out some really big names like UCL.”

Dhafnie Basilio pointed out that “this opportunity helped us learn how to use new data tools and refine what we already know. We also think that it was really nice to connect with others, especially during a pandemic.”

Aymie Haslam said: “I took a chance on myself and entered. I learned a lot. I worked with amazing people on my team. The challenge took a crazy amount of teamwork, time and communication. Every minute was worth it. I encourage students interested in economics to seek out these opportunities. It was a fun way to grow and develop as a professional.”

The first-week challenge asked each student to introduce themselves through a short video and to interact with some of the other students. Moldovan says it was fascinating to see how a love of learning and applying economics could bring together young people with such diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

The second-week challenge was to clean a data set, which is one of the most important steps towards creating a culture around quality data decision-making, to ensure validity, accuracy, completeness, consistency and uniformity. The teams used Excel and Stata to complete this task.

For the third-week challenge, the students were given a dataset from the National Financial Capabilities Study and created six slides with data visualizations to help Congress identify areas of concern and opportunities where policy might be helpful. A team from University College London uploaded their visualizations, analysis and policy suggestions early.

"This prompted one of our students to call their work a 'masterpiece,' and motivated everyone to push themselves beyond what they previously thought they could do," Moldovan says. 

The fourth-week challenge introduced the students to Tableau, a visual analytics platform that hadn’t used before, and asked them to create a dashboard with a map visualization, a bar graph, a line plot and a scatterplot.

Finally, on March 5 it was time for the actual competition challenge. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, this year’s Econ Games data collaborator and competition judges, provided a very large dataset for the U.S. economy and asked the students to use it to formulate a research question, to visualize and analyze data, and to produce an eight-minute video with COVID recovery policy recommendations, all between Friday morning and Monday morning. 

On March 10, the Dismal Scientists found out that they were one of the three teams to compete in the games’ final on March 12.

"Imagine," Moldovan says. "A team from Mount Royal University in the Econ Games final, competing against students from University College London and the University of Kentucky, all due to an incredible combination of data analysis skills, creativity, critical thinking, ability to work under pressure and flawless teamwork. And let’s not forget the exhausting video-editing process."

Chart: Which demographics have been hit the hardest by COVID-related job loss.

The actual competition challenge asked students to come up with COVID recovery policy recommendations.

The Dismal Scientists then had to present their work in a live webinar in no more than eight minutes. They focused their analysis on “jobless recovery," pointing out that unemployment does not appear to be falling quickly once a country’s GDP starts to increase.

"Their presentation was backed by professional data visualizations they had produced from raw data over a single weekend," Moldovan says. "Their data-grounded policy recommendations spanned job retraining and employer of last resort programs, free higher education targeted at vulnerable demographics, and support for arts and creative industry majors."

After deliberation, the final results were: first place for the University of Kentucky, second place for Mount Royal University and third place for University College London.

View the students' presentation, with MRU appearing at the 10-minute mark.

April 1, 2021

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