Capitol Calling: Stevens Student’s Research Prepares Legislators to Meet Fed Chief

2/20/2014

Fed chief Janet Yellen is respected as a rare economist who understands both complex economic theory and how to explain it to the masses. 

Fortunately, the House Committee on Financial Services had a knowledgeable researcher to prepare them for Yellen’s testimony earlier this month — Stevens junior Carolyn Cochran.

Cochran, a Quantitative Finance major at the Howe School, is spending a semester studying at Georgetown University while interning with her committee, where she’s charged with performing research in a number of critical economic and policy areas.

The QF program, she said, helped pique her interest in policy.

“The great thing about the QF major is you can go into so many directions with it,” she said.

“I love working for the committee and being able to work on the Hill. It’s such a different atmosphere than New York and Wall Street. But that being said, I’m still interested in the quantitative side, in analytics, in statistics.”

Learn more about Stevens’ Quantitative Finance program

That’s the goal of a Stevens program allowing students in the Howe School to study in Georgetown for a semester in the nation’s capital. It’s an important target for QF students looking to help bridge the gap between the Wall Street and Washington crowds, said Dr. George Calhoun, QF program director.

“They technologies they study here are the source of some of the new types of risk in the financial markets — and when it comes to the asset managers and the regulators, neither party fully understands the other at this point,” Calhoun said.

Stevens’ QF program puts an emphasis on understanding the kinds of technologies that are changing the financial markets, through state-of-the-art tools like the Hanlon Financial Systems Lab, which uses real-time market data and sophisticated software to provide a Wall Street environment for Howe students and researchers. But regulators are more cautious about such technology, and that perspective is an important consideration for students studying quantitative finance.

The hope, Calhoun said, is that programs like this bring both parties to the table to create understanding of each other and bridge that gap.

Cochran, he said, is “having experiences you can’t have in New York. It’s tremendously broadening her education. I want her to have this kind of rich experience, and come back and help convince other students to go.”

While she isn’t sure how the experience will shape her career plans, “down the road, I’d like to do something bridging the Wall Street and D.C. worlds,” in something like consulting or compliance, Cochran said.

Either way, there’s no doubt her Washington experience will shape her future.

A trusted part of the team

Cochran’s days in Washington typically begin with a review of the daily news, to get a sense of current events and how they might shape monetary policy. She then delves into her research at the behest of other staffers, who might need her to prepare committee members on in-depth issues like capital markets or housing policies.

“There’s no menial tasks or errands,” she said. “My job really does come down to doing this research.”

It was this kind of research work that saw her preparing for Yellen’s visit, which she called her most exciting experience to date.

“Not only was I able to help the members and staff prepare for the hearing by doing research, I was actually able to meet Chair Yellen, shake her hand and share a few words with her,” Cochran said.

“It really is nice to be trusted with such responsibility. I’m not getting published, or anything like that, but I’m held on the same level as an experienced professional.”

Cochran got a taste of what the experience would be like during the fall, when she competed with a Stevens team in the national College Fed Challenge. Teams in the competition do research on the state of the economy and the impact of Fed policy, and present their findings to a representative of the Fed and an economics expert.

“It was great to get a sense of what goes into such complicated, hard projects,” she said. “I might not have pursued something like this internship if Stevens hadn’t given me that exposure.”

The experience of interning in Washington has been rewarding thus far, but also challenging, Cochran said. She offered one piece of advice to students interested in a similar experience — know what you’re getting into.

That was made easier through efforts by Stevens, she said.

“Stevens did a great job preparing me for the real world experience — both the faculty and other QF students,” she said. “Stevens and D.C. are totally different kinds of worlds … I probably wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have that support from Stevens.”

The next step is to get more students to take advantage of similar opportunities, Calhoun said.

“Any quantitative finance student with an experience like this will have a competitive advantage when they go into a work environment,” he said.