Have You Met Rutgers-Newark?

Scholar, Professor, and Mentor to Champions

For a number of John W. Graham’s economics students, a trip to the Federal Reserve offices in Washington, D.C., has become an annual event; so has bringing home boasting rights as Fed Reserve Challenge finalists.  

Graham, who teaches courses in macroeconomics, has been the academic advisor and coach for the Rutgers-Newark College Fed Challenge team since 2005.  The completion is sponsored by the Federal Reserve and student teams from across the nation compete on their overall knowledge of macroeconomics, how the Federal Reserve operates, and the major monetary issues facing the Fed. Each team is scored in several categories, including teamwork, knowledge, and presentation skills.

Graham and his teams have amassed an impressive record.  In 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2011 his teams won the New York district finals and competed in the national championship in Washington, D.C. In 2006 Rutgers-Newark finished third in the nation, and in 2009 and 2011,  R-N was second nationally, with the 2011 team bested only by the team from Harvard University. Just to reach the finals in Washington, the teams have to compete in preliminaries and semi-final competitions, against teams including Pace University, Hamilton College,  Columbia and Cornell University.

For Graham and his students,  the work begins the spring before the competitions, which are held in late fall, when team members are chosen. They begin meeting weekly over the summer and into the fall, working with Graham as they research topics such as economic activity, gross domestic product, and labor markets.  Graham critiques their Power Point presentation, and prepares them for the grilling they will endure at the judges’ hands.

Graham formed the first R-N Fed Challenge Team back in 2005 because he sees the Challenge as “an excellent opportunity for our best students to excel.”  Excelling has become a tradition for the team, and so has Graham’s tendency to downplay his own huge role as coach and mentor, while praising the team’s performance. But student team members disagree; former captain Victor Castaneda (Class of 2012) believes Graham changed his career path by putting him on the team.  Sher Singh (Class of 2012) credits their success to Graham’s “dedication, expertise, kindness, and generosity.”

Graham earned his Ph.D. in economics from Northwestern University in 1978.  He has been a faculty member at Rutgers-Newark since 1986.  Prior to coming to Rutgers, he taught at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and the Pennsylvania State University.  He was department chair from 2003-12.