Have You Met Rutgers-Newark?

Numbers play a major role in Victor Castaneda's life

Numbers play a major role in Victor Castaneda's life, but that doesn't mean the economics and mathematics major has lived his life by the numbers.

Castaneda was born in Colombia, but his family came to New Jersey to take advantage of the greater educational opportunities in the U.S. After high school, Victor spent four years in the U.S. Marines Corps Reserves.

His first years at Rutgers-Newark were both exhausting and fortuitous. A full-time student, he worked nights at a package delivery service, some 35 hours a week, a grueling schedule only lessened in the past year when implementation of the new GI Bill eased the financial burdens of tuition. But his first year was also marked by the good luck of finding himself in a class taught by R-N economics department chair John Graham.

Not only did Graham's class supercharge Castaneda's interest in economics and mathematics, it was Graham who invited Castaneda to take part in the annual College Federal Reserve Challenge competition. The Fed Challenge is a nationwide competition, sponsored by the Federal Reserve Board, which tests college students' understanding of the workings of the "Fed" and the numerous economic factors and policies that impact its decisions concerning interest rates.

For three years Castaneda was a key team member, including serving as captain, and for each of those years, he and the team won the regional competition and finished near the top of the national finals in Washington, D.C. Each year, he and the team spent months, and scores of hours, doing research and working with Graham to analyze vast amounts of economics data. Based on their findings, they would propose what position the Fed should make on the prime interest rate - lower or raise it, or maintain the status quo - and then prepare an in-depth presentation to argue their case. The team then had to present their findings - and be grilled by members of the Fed - as they progressed through the rounds of the challenge.

Along the way team members learned to think fast on their feet and handle the stress of competition, and gained valuable public speaking skills. "It was the most rewarding experience of my undergraduate years," Castaneda notes.

Post graduation, Castaneda is seeking research assistant positions at the Federal Reserve, insurance companies, investment banks, and similar institutions, looking to gain experience that will help him in graduate school. And, Castaneda will continue to hone his parenting skills as new dad to son Noah, born during the fall semester.