A restructuring and refocusing of the Economics and Finance Department that started in 2008 has culminated five years later in the department’s winning Utah State University’s highest academic honor, the 2013 Teaching Excellence Award. The department put a renewed emphasis on undergraduate teaching and on putting students first. The students themselves, including Steven Gould and Brooke Siler, are among the first to affirm that the department gave them a very high quality education.
Steven Gould graduated in 2013 with a major in finance, enjoyed multiple job offers, and now works for Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City. “On our six-day career exploration trip to New York City with Professor Paul Fjeldsted, I began to see that we at the Huntsman School were just as well prepared as students from top-rated programs around the country,” Steve said. “We met with firms together with students from Stanford, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Carnegie Mellon. As we conversed and responded to questions, we could see that we were equally well-prepared.”
Steve attributed his high quality finance preparation, in part, to this: “Our professors didn’t just try to cram us full of facts; they found out what we wanted to accomplish in life, and they helped prepare us to do that.” Professors such as Frank Caliendo consistently and rigorously connected the macroeconomic material taught in the classroom to current events, such as the recession that began in 2007. Paul Fjeldsted’s Investment Practicum class also served as excellent preparation for real-world investing, Steve said. “Unlike professors with similar courses at other universities, Professor Fjeldsted really left the investing decisions to us,” Steve said. “He felt it was important for us to learn from our mistakes, and we did.”
"While teaching was always important, we put in place a new strategy with more emphasis specifically on undergraduate teaching and learning excellence." - Tyler Bowles
Now Steve is putting his education to the test in his new job at Goldman Sachs. “Our smaller class sizes and ability to interact more closely with professors prepared me so well that when I took the first battery of tests at Goldman Sachs to identify what further training I would need, I passed all of those tests and was able to skip ahead to the advanced training in bonds, derivatives, valuation, and equity,” Steve said. “I just got back from six weeks of training in New York City, and the concepts we studied were very familiar to me, so the training was more of a review.”
Brooke Siler, who grew up in North Logan, is another Huntsman student who affirms the tremendous value of her economics education. She carries a 4.0 GPA, with a dual major in economics and biochemistry, and plans to start a Master of Science in Finance and Economics here at the Huntsman School upon graduation this year “to build on my quant skills.”
Steve Gould '13
Her classes from professors such as Frank Caliendo “were extraordinary,” she said, particularly advanced macroeconomics. “That caliber of teaching prepared me to feel confident in competing with just about anyone in the job market,” she said. “He had a relatively laid-back approach, but I never learned more in my life.”
Brooke also became very interested in international economics through the Huntsman Scholar Program, with Professor Shannon Peterson as “one of my best mentors,” she said. Professor Peterson encouraged her and fellow economics major Alison Fife to attend a one-week International Women’s Leadership Conference in Dubai, where they interacted with women from 42 countries and delved deeply into women’s international economic development issues.
These two students and many like them benefited from the restructuring of the Economics and Finance Department that started in 2008, said department head Tyler Bowles. “While teaching was always important,” he said, “we put in place a new strategy with more emphasis specifically on undergraduate teaching and learning excellence.”
Brooke Siler '14
To win the USU Teaching Excellence Award five years later, the department submitted a short proposal and then a 24-page “Portfolio of Learning Excellence,” followed by several classroom observation visits, and finally a 30-minute presentation to the award selection committee—all outlining its vigorous and transformative strides forward in quality teaching.
“Our economics and finance faculty have created a culture that is rigorous and student-centered,” said Dean Douglas D. Anderson. “I’m so proud of what they have accomplished.”
The award comes with a $20,000 prize to fund activities that support teaching and learning excellence. The last time a department from the Huntsman School won the award was in 2004, when the School of Accountancy won it.
One element of the departmental refocusing occurred with an emphasis on hiring top talent, many from the top economics and finance programs in the country— including, for example, Devon Gorry from the University of Chicago, along with professors from Harvard, University of Iowa, George Mason University, University of Arizona, Washington University, and the University of Utah. Also, in keeping with the marked trend at top business departments around the country, a number of professional practitioners were hired, such as Logan native Paul Fjeldsted, who came back after two successful decades in the bond market on Wall Street. These kinds of hires added strength to the ranks of top professors already in the department, such as Frank Caliendo, the 2011 Eldon J. Gardner Teacher of the Year at USU, and department stalwarts Dwight Israelson and Alan Stephens. The department also undertook several initiatives to build on the foundation of top faculty talent. These included ensuring that all courses are taught by faculty and not graduate students, pairing junior faculty with senior faculty mentors, conducting a thorough review and overhaul of the curriculum, with pre- and post-testing of students to assure learning outcomes, opening research opportunities to undergraduate students, and creating co-curricular programs such as a robust student club focused on career development.
The Economics Department had a very strong reputation for teaching excellence back in the 1970’s, as well. Alumni often spontaneously mention their love of classes from popular professors such as Reed Durtschi, Leonard Arrington, Del Gardner, and a number of others.
This latest renewal of the department builds on that earlier strength, putting teaching on par with the existing excellence in research.
Economics and Finance faculty clockwise left to right: Frank Caliendo '98, PhD '03; Chris Fawson, Randy
Simmons '75, and Diana Thomas; Alan Stephens; Shannon Peterson '90, MA '92; Scott Findley '03, MS '03;
Department Head Tyler Bowles '84, MS '86 with President Stan Albrecht; Ben Blau '02, MS '05 with students