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The 2020-2021 FDIC Academic Challenge is a team competition for undergraduate students, designed to bring real-world policy questions into the classroom and address questions concerning the banking industry. The FDIC provided teams of 4-5 undergraduates with a dataset, a data codebook, and the public data sources used in compiling the dataset and asked them to provide an analysis of “The Effects of Community Banks on Local Economic Development.” In the first round of the competition (late fall 2020), teams submitted a written response to the question. In the second round (spring 2021), five finalist teams gave a Zoom presentation of their findings and answered questions from a panel of judges who work in the areas of banking and bank supervision. The economics department fielded a team of undergraduate Economics majors:  Rafaela Bayas, Maeve Cook, Haoyang (Peter) Lyu, and Gabi Rousey. The UNC team was selected as one of the five finalists, along with teams from California State University, Fullerton; the University of Chicago; the University of Delaware, and SUNY-Geneseo (the winner). Dr. Geetha Vaidyanathan, teaching professor in the Economics Department at UNC, helped lead the team as they developed their ideas and supported them throughout their journey to the final presentation.

We interviewed Rafaela, Maeve, Peter, and Gabi, asking them to share what this opportunity meant to them.


What skills from your academic coursework did you apply in the preparation of your team’s response to the FDIC question of how community bank services impact individuals, small businesses, and farmers, particularly in rural, low-income and minority communities?

Maeve (pictured left) began by explaining that “the FDIC academic challenge provided us a large dataset and a broad question. At first the numbers seemed daunting, so we began our analysis by going back to the basic of economics. We did calculations with base years, looked at percentage changes in the number of branches, amounts of deposits and loans, and more. This initial approach helped the team better understand the data we were looking at and contributed to us narrowing down our research question.”

Gabi expanded: “The skills I learned in my econometrics course prepared me the most for the FDIC Academic Challenge. When I took ECON 400, my professor stressed the idea that all data reveals a story and that we must discover what the numbers really “mean” when translated into real-life situations. Looking at the data and graphs from loans, bank branches, and owner jobs helped me understand the larger issues that community banks are facing and how regulatory changes have contributed to these trends over time.”

Rafaela supported this idea, and added: “One of the most important skills I used was data analysis that I learned through some of my Economics classes. I also thought about what I learned in Development Economics about how rural areas usually take into account different things that urban areas do, especially in the social aspect. This helped me analyze that we should look beyond just the numeric data, but analyze the social aspects as well.”

Peter concluded with: “I was able to use the knowledge from ECON 400 and 470 to analyze the data, to see the relationship in country, state, and county level. Also, combined with polices presented by Gabi, we were able to connect the data analyzed with a series of policies in the banking history to have a better understanding of the impact of community banks on the U.S. economy, which greatly helped us in the preparation of the final response.”


How did the experience of participating in this FDIC challenge contribute to your skills as you prepare for internships and for the post-graduation job market?

Gabi shared: “This experience allowed me to practice analyzing trends in data and making inferences.  I was also able to learn a great deal about the specifics and history of banking regulation in the United States, which is a field I am interested in exploring in the future.”

Rafaela (pictured right) elaborated: “It contributed in my teamwork skills. I had to submit my work on a deadline and discuss with team members about advances. Also, performing data analysis and graphs with the provided data was an extremely important skill that I know will be useful for the job market.”

Peter added: “Participating the FDIC academic challenge helped me greatly on improving my data analytical skills and my attention to the details when doing research and analyzing data. By analyzing data from numerous banks in the U.S. and North Carolina, my teammates and I were able to practice and learn about data analysis to see the story behind numbers and graphs, which has been an exciting part of our journey. Also,  through this experience, I am also able to know that I would like to do something related to data analysis in the future.

And Maeve summarized with: “Participating in the FDIC Academic Challenge was a crash course in analyzing data and writing like an economist. Not only were we expected to create graphs and analyze changes in community bank services over time, but we also needed to effectively communicate those findings. The entire process strengthened my ability to manipulate data in Excel, visualize findings through graphs, and write clearly about complex topics.”


How did participation change your approach toward coursework as you complete your major in Economics?

Gabi provided specifics with the following observation: “By participating in the FDIC Academic Challenge, I was able to realize my interest in banking policy. In the future, I would like to take financial markets and econometrics courses to strengthen my quantitative skills and to gain a better foundation in this area. I am also interested in exploring our research topic further through an independent study course.”

Rafaela said that “it has helped me realize that the Economics coursework aided me in approaching a problem not only numerically, but socially. Studying Economics has made me realize that a lot of the existing economic problems cannot  be solved by looking at data and models, but also by understanding human choice. I was able to see this firsthand in this project, by analyzing behaviors of people and the loan market in rural vs. urban areas.”

Peter (pictured left) elaborated with: “I felt one thing I learned from FDIC Academic Challenge is that the data in today’s world is extremely complex. Being able to eliminate the “noise” and to see the real relationship and story behind numbers is an extremely important skill to have. In the future, I would probably take more classes related to econometrics and statistics as I complete my major in Economics.

Looking more broadly, Maeve added: “This truly was such a team effort. Everyone brought different strengths and perspectives to the table. The challenge reminded me of the importance of working together and drawing from a variety of resources – each other, professors, academic articles, and even videos online.”


Please share any additional information that you think others might want to hear (or benefit from hearing) about your experience with this opportunity.

Rafaela stated: “It was extremely valuable to work on this project, as I was able to see first-hand the use of my skills for real-world applications.”

Peter encouraged others with “I think we all should actively seek opportunities such as FDIC Academic Challenge to try to apply the knowledge we learned into a real world setting to practice and to learn more from those experiences because they would help us to make important decisions such as choosing classes, majors or what careers to pursue.”

Maeve opened up to share: “Before the FDIC Challenge, I hadn’t competed in an economics-based competition before, didn’t know how to analyze data in Excel, and I didn’t have a team. I wrote to Dr. Vaidyanathan saying that I was interested in participating, but I didn’t know anyone else who would want to tackle the challenge. Luckily, I was thrown together with incredible and hardworking teammates whose insights and dedication made us national finalists. I hope my experience with this challenge encourages others to try things they’ve never done before with people they’ve never met. This opportunity was incredibly rewarding and taught me professional skills I can use later in my career.”

Gabi (pictured right) wraps it up well, by summarizing with “The FDIC Academic Challenge was a project out of my comfort zone, but I am so glad that I participated. I was able to delve more into my major, apply skills that I have learned, build my confidence, and get to know my fellow classmates. Overall, I think that it was such a great learning experience, and I am looking forward to participating again in the future.”


Congratulations to Rafaela, Maeve, Peter, and Gabi, who were one of the top five finalists teams nationwide in the inaugural FDIC Challenge. Look for information from the Economics department about the 2nd annual 2021-2022 FDIC Challenge opportunity.

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