Reflections on Spring Semester 2024

Entrance to Hanson Hall as you enter from the skyway

As I write, it is graduation weekend, and I am about to head to Mariucci Arena for CLA’s undergraduate commencement. This past Friday evening, as department chair, I had the honor of presiding over the economics department’s graduation ceremony, celebrating both our undergraduate and PhD students who completed their degrees. (It was more “pomp and circumstance” than anything we have ever tried, so special thanks to our amazing staff for their great job pulling it off.) 

A highlight of the ceremony was hearing the three student speakers articulate how their training in Minnesota Economics—whether it be at the graduate or undergraduate level—will equip them as they go out into the world and aim to make a difference. 

A poignant moment was when one undergraduate speaker noted that she and many of her classmates had graduated from high school in the spring of 2020 and they had missed the traditional graduation experience because of COVID. Our ceremony was the first time these students got to be called up to the stage to recognize and celebrate their achievements. Congratulations indeed to the Minnesota Economics class of 2024!

New BA with Business Economics Emphasis

We have some big news about our undergraduate curriculum. In collaboration with the Carlson School of Management (CSOM), we have added a new economics BA degree that has business-economics emphasis, our first new major since the late 1980s. 

We have always had economics students (including surely some reading this newsletter) pursuing a business-economics track, both by taking business-oriented economics courses such as money and banking within our major and taking CSOM classes outside of our major. What's new and exciting about the new business economics major is that by bringing CSOM classes inside the major, students have more options and flexibility for getting business content in their curriculum. 

We are grateful to our alumnus Matt Mazzucchi (BA ‘04) for coming to campus this spring to speak to a standing-room-only audience, generating great enthusiasm among our undergraduates for the new major. Matt discussed the crucial impact his business economics curriculum at Minnesota has had on his career at Houlihan Lokey, where he is currently managing director and co-head of its Power & Utilities Group and the Energy Group. 

This new major adds to our already great line-up of major choices. If you have the chance to talk to high school students applying to college, please spread the word about the exciting things we are doing! 

Undergraduates Travel to Washington DC 

In other news about our undergraduate program, we were delighted this year to partner with the Humphrey School of Public Affairs for the third year in a row in offering a Washington DC career trip to ten of our undergraduate economics majors. The selected students are all interested in public policy. Through this program, the students made various on-site visits, such as the World Bank, where they attended panel discussions and participated in networking events and informal interviews. Through this program, our students learn how to use their economics degrees as a pathway to public services careers.

Our Graduate Students

Turning to graduate program news, in the December newsletter we put a link to the list of our new PhDs going on the job market. Now with the spring newsletter we can share our graduate students’ placement results. They range from major research universities, to liberal arts, to government, to industry.

Through the high value added of our program, we are producing tomorrow's leaders across these various spheres.

To better attract top students to our graduate program, we have been expanding our use of fellowships, including increasing the number of first-year students who receive them. We have also used fellowship funds to supplement our teaching stipends, making our offers more competitive with other top institutions. Our ability to expand fellowships is entirely thanks to the generosity of our alumni and friends, which is enabling us to make significant strides forward. While there is still more work to do, I am optimistic that we will continue to make progress.

This year, we introduced a new event for our third-year PhD students, The Richard and Ellen Sandor Poster Conference, and we are grateful to the Sandors for funding the event and establishing a prize for the winner. Combining the lure of prize money with competitive peer pressure motivated our students to create impressive work. In fact, the work was so good that we took the show on the road to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, just down the street. 

A second new initiative was to ask all our PhD students going on the market next fall to produce early but complete versions of their job market papers this spring. Based on these completed early drafts, the department awarded three dissertation fellowships. Furthermore, every student meeting the deadline received additional support to help with their extra liquidity needs during the job market year. Incentives matter! All the students submitted complete drafts by the deadline. The faculty will be working with the students all summer to polish and improve on these complete drafts to get them in even better condition for the market next fall. 

Again, I want to pause and highlight that all of these new initiatives have only been possible because of the generosity of our alumni and friends. This generosity is making a big difference!

Economics Alum to Receive UMN Outstanding Achievement Award

In June we will have a special event to honor our alumnus Andreu Mas-Colell (PhD ‘72) with the University of Minnesota’s Outstanding Achievement Award, an honor reserved for the University’s most distinguished graduates. 

My colleague Tim Kehoe wrote a wonderful article about Andreu’s extraordinary contributions, which includes a discussion of Andreu’s pioneering research in economics. Andreu’s work building academic institutions is also being recognized by the award and it is therefore fitting that the award ceremony will be in Barcelona on the site of the Barcelona School of Economics which he built.

Heller-Hurwicz Economics Institute Update

The Heller-Hurwicz Economics Institute (HHEI) continues to be a driving force of excellence for the Department of Economics, both in the way that it supports the rigorous research that we do here and in the way that it serves as a bridge for this research to impact public policy. 

To learn about the many exciting things that HHEI is doing, I encourage you to check the latest HHEI Annual Report. In April, we kicked off our second season of the Heller-Hurwicz Office Hours podcast, with topics ranging from mergers and acquisitions, to tax policy, climate, and more. Be sure to catch up on the latest episodes!

Faculty & Staff Awards

Finally, we wish to congratulate Senior Lecturer Fahima Aziz for her Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award and Chief of Staff Kara Kersteter for her Outstanding Service Award!

Thank you for your continued interest and support of both the Department of Economics and the Heller-Hurwicz Economics Institute. If you'd like to make an unrestricted gift this year, you can give to the Economics Annual Fund or the Heller-Hurwicz Program Fund. Or you can search for your favorite named fund. Thanks to the generosity of our alumni and friends, we continuously strive to be one of the best economics programs in the world.

Wishing you a wonderful summer from Minnesota Economics! I love hearing from all of you and you can always drop me a line at


Thomas J. Holmes
Professor and Chair, Department of Economics

Share on: