UNO’s Center for Economic Education was founded in an effort to bring economics to K-12 teachers and classrooms throughout the Omaha metro. Through the center, instructors improve their ability to teach economics and personal finance, and students benefit from new opportunities to explore and learn about these vital topics.
One of the center’s most impactful events is the annual Economics and Accounting Day. The event brings high school students to UNO for a full day of hands-on lessons in these often intimidating subjects. Dr. Jamie Wagner, director of the Center for Economic Education, initiated the event after noticing that many students lacked basic understanding of quantitative subjects.
“Economics is the study of choices,” Wagner says. “Understanding how our choices affect our daily lives is incredibly important, and economics is so essential that many schools across the state and nation require it for high school students in order to graduate.”
Despite the importance of these subjects, students are often fearful of number-heavy fields and have incorrect perceptions of economics as boring or not applicable to their lives. Steve Nath, accounting instructor, aims to combat the subjects’ less-than-stellar reputations.
“Most high school students have had little exposure to subjects like budgeting. After the event, they realize they need to have a budget when attending college,” Nath explains. “We try to present the material in a way that is engaging and fun, but with some very specific lessons in mind.”
Presenters at the event are all talented instructors at UNO CBA who work together to create interactive lessons for the students. Through games, students think critically while enjoying the material. In the event’s recent sessions, students have been tasked with starting up their own lemonade stand.
“Students have to think about all the costs involved in starting their own business,” Nath explains. “Not just ingredients, but overhead like rent, advertising, legal fees, and so on. The game asks them to develop an accounting system to track all of their expenses. They really enjoy it, and learn a lot too.”
Students also participate in simulated production and information processing games using ping pong balls and candy, and complete an economics of natural disasters session.
The use of interactive games has proven hugely successful. Wagner says that one of the greatest successes from the event is students’ interest in the topics even after the day is over.
“I walked around in between and after sessions, and students were still talking about the activities and how fun they were,” Wagner recalls. “This signaled to me that they were engaged with the lessons and they made them think – a win in my book.”
And the effort to engage students in economics and accounting doesn’t stop there. Nath often performs outreach to area high schools, visiting them directly and speaking at FBLA and DECA events to share the value of these subjects with students.
“I really enjoy seeing students come into the room thinking ‘this is going to be really boring,’ and then watching their expressions change as they become engaged with what I’m talking about,” Nath says. “Kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They ask great questions! I have the best job in the world here at UNO.”
Thanks to the commitment of UNO’s Center for Economic Education and UNO CBA instructors, the event has grown year after year, reaching more students than ever and sparking an invigorated interest in economics and accounting for high schoolers while extinguishing their common fears about the subjects.
“This year, I opened up the event to 150 students – the RSVP was maxed out within a couple days of opening registration,” Wagner says, inspired by the growing interest and student participation across the metro.
Best of all, as students visit UNO and grow more comfortable with economics and accounting, they realize there are career opportunities in these topics. Many of the students attending could become future Mavericks in UNO CBA’s economics and accounting programs – or, at a minimum, they won’t be afraid to budget and set themselves up for financial success.
“My kids had a great time,” shared Brooks Humphreys, social studies educator at Mercy High School. “The event inspired me with ideas for my own Econ 101 class for my seniors, it was organized well, and the day was seamless.”
The third annual Economics and Accounting Day is October 4, 2019, with updates on upcoming sessions available on the center’s event page.