May 8, 2014

Economics focuses on undergraduate experience

Nadine Nikolova
Monique Markoff
Nadine Nikolova helps the Cornell Economics Society publicize its Econ Week by chalking for the event.

The Department of Economics is renewing efforts to improve connections between its more than 500 undergraduate majors, 50 faculty members and other resources on campus through a number of new initiatives, including hiring an undergraduate student experience coordinator and creating a new undergraduate economics lounge.

Monique Markoff ’06, the new coordinator, is well placed in her Uris Hall office, directly off the new student lounge on the fourth floor. Coming from a background in education and technology, Markoff already has a full schedule of events planned for students and has been getting to know faculty, students and alumni.

“There was a feeling that students didn’t know where to go for resources,” Markoff said. “We want them to know what all of their career options are, where they can take classes to fill out their skill sets and where they can find research opportunities.”

The Department of Economics was created three years ago by merging the economics faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and making joint appointments to a number of economics faculty from Cornell’s other schools and colleges.

“The new department would now serve two separate groups of undergraduates, so we needed to decide how to better serve both of them,” said Ted O’Donoghue, economics professor and director of undergraduate studies, who led the faculty group that studied how to reimagine the undergraduate economics program.

Simeon Markind and Kevin Hallock
Monique Markoff
At a Q-and-A session during Econ Week, Simeon Markind '14, left, talks with Professor Kevin Hallock, chair of the economics department.

A survey of students and young alumni delivered many suggestions, including improving student-faculty connections, offering more guidance on designing one’s major, connecting students to alumni and offering smaller classes. These suggestions led the study group to suggest the new undergrad experience coordinator.

Markoff has a host of plans to improve the experience for undergrads. Some of her projects so far have included:

  • connecting students to alumni through campus visits;
  • reinvigorating Omicron Delta Epsilon, the economics honor society, which could offer more opportunities for research and interaction with faculty;
  • circulating “Ezranomics,” a biweekly newsletter for students;
  • restructuring the department website and increasing its social media presence; and
  • coordinating events to help students connect, including the recent Economics Week, sponsored by the Cornell Economics Society.

The new student lounge offers a friendly space where a lot of these connections are taking place, said Ben Chartock ’14, an economics major and president of the Cornell Economics Society. “It’s helped me to recognize how similar we all are by being able to sit and chat or have a cup of coffee together,” he said. “I realized that there are tons of students who think like I think and are interested in the things I’m interested in.”

He’s been in the lounge when seniors working on their honors theses are chatting with sophomores who have questions about the major and when small groups are working on projects.

The lounge and Markoff are important connections in a department like economics, where there’s such a diversity of issues, topics and opportunities, Chartock said.

“Having a coordinator like Monique helps students know that even though we are this large group of students, we’re also a small, tight-knit community,” Chartock said.

Kathy Hovis is a staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.