Department of Economics hosts panel discussion

Juan Casas, Courier Staff

On Friday, the Department of Economics and Decision Sciences at Western Illinois University hosted an event to help prepare students for the jobs of the future. The event was open to the public and took place on Analytics and Economics Day in Stipes Hall.

An alumni panel of former Western graduate students took questions from the audience on life after graduation, how they went from student life to working full-time and many other aspects of working in the economic field. The five-alumni panel included Helen Barajas, senior retirement analyst at Exelon; Sidney Falzone, finance manager at Sertifi, Inc.; Brooklin Salemi, associate at Hickey and Associates; Anna Stinauer, institutional research coordinator at Spoon River Community College; and Alexandra Walker, senior economic analyst at Caterpillar, Inc.

The panel was asked what a typical day working in the economics field involves. For Walker, a typical day was filled with analysis of raw data, along with constant meetings and coding. Stinauer’s day involves data analysis, scheduling and reporting to her superiors on the student demographics like pass and fail rates. Salemi described her typical day in the corporate world as being filled with traveling, which forces her to constantly work via her email or over the phone. Falzone described his typical day as going over subscriptions sales, reporting on the rates of sales and budgeting. Barajas’s day includes budgeting, creating and scheduling retirement plans, while also ranking and filing existing retirement plans.

The panel was asked how they have adapted to changing technology. Barajas shared that the main technological tool she uses in her day-to-day operations in the analysis field is Excel, which has not changed much over the years. She does find it challenging to reach out to retirees, who may not be familiar with smartphones or other digital technology. Stinbauer agreed that it’s challenging, but studying the technology allows her to keep up with the advancements. Falzone says that he has noticed an uptake in the workflow due to the increase in smart TVs and other subscription- use technologies. Salemi shared a story of how she got her current job. She received an internship after she graduated, which helped her both keep up with technological changes and getting her foot in the door.

“The best thing about economics is that the problems have open ended solutions,” Salemi said.

In the next wave of questions from the audience, the panel was asked how they managed to balance work and life. Barajas stated that she works from home, which allows her to manage her time better even though she feels lonely often throughout the day. She believes that companies are much more flexible with work hours than they were before, meaning that the opportunity for a healthy balance of work and social life can be sustained more easily. Falzone said that what helped him is keeping his worlds separated, which means keeping work where work belongs and not bringing it home with him. He also doesn’t use his email when he’s not on the clock. Salemi said that her balance of work and social life is not as healthy as it could be. While she is a workaholic, she rarely brings her work home with her. She tries to put her phone away in the late afternoon, but admits that she’s not the best at accomplishing that. Stinauer tries to manage her workload to ensure that she won’t fall too far behind and to make sure that she could squeeze some time in-between assignments and workloads. Like Salemi, Stinauer doesn’t bring work home either, which she believes is the difference between working in the corporate world and working in the public world.

The panel closed out the forum by giving advice to the audience.

“You come out of school thinking you know a lot and you do not.” Salemi said. “All the things you don’t want to do, do them.” “The first five-six years don’t worry about title, worry about learning,” Falzone said. “Do more than you are paid to do, and stand out.”

Work ethic will take you farther than title, according to Stinauer, and it’s important to be involved.

“Be more active, study abroad, join clubs and network,” Stinauer said.

Walker concluded the well-attended forum with a final piece of advice. “Don’t get discouraged from the application phase,” Walker said. “Expect to be rejected, but try, try and try.”