Econ Ed Team Takes a Field Trip

No rule says workshops for teachers must be held in drab conference rooms. So the Atlanta Fed’s economic education team is taking its workshops on location.

On June 24, Julie Kornegay, senior economic and financial education specialist in Birmingham, for the second time held a session in the Honda automobile assembly plant in Lincoln, Alabama.

It wasn’t just an excuse to have a workshop in a cool place. The factory, where Honda assembles sport utility vehicles and vans, and a discussion with the plant’s top executive were central parts of the workshop material. “Focusing on the practical economics of industry in our states is really important to our mission,” Kornegay said.

Auto manufacturing a staple in Alabama economy
Since the late 1990s, the auto industry has become a staple of Alabama’s economy. The state is home to three assembly plants. And in 2012, manufacturers of motor vehicles, bodies, trailers, and parts accounted for 3.1 percent of the state’s economic activity as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. That is triple the proportion of the entire country’s GDP that comes from motor vehicle manufacturing—about 0.9 percent—and on par with that of Tennessee, the South’s leading auto manufacturing center.

Because of the auto industry’s prominence in Alabama, Kornegay and the teachers conducted exercises designed to demonstrate the economic impact of automotive assembly operations and their extensive supplier networks.

Powerful, hands-on stuff
“This is really powerful, hands-on stuff for those teachers,” said Amy Hennessy, the Atlanta Fed’s director of economic education.

Workshop attendees included not only economics teachers, but also career technology, or vocational, instructors, whose students would likely seek the kinds of jobs available at the auto plant. Kornegay set up the workshop with the help of Cynthia McCarty, an associate professor in the College of Commerce and Business Administration at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama.

The workshop at Honda is not a one-off event. Rather, the Atlanta Fed’s economic education team increasingly aims to deliver practical lessons grounded in the economies of the Southeast. For example, future sessions on trade might be held at the Alabama State Docks in Mobile, Kornegay said. And the Atlanta Fed’s New Orleans Branch has held workshops focused on the economics of wetlands, water, and wildlife.

More and more, educators are seeking ways to move beyond a traditional “chalk-and-talk” approach centered on classroom lectures. Visiting area manufacturers, many of which, like Honda, offer tours, is one way educators can teach class outside of the classroom and offer students a useful window into a major piece of the economy. “Teachers need activities that they can use in class, and then have the students do the reading outside the classroom,” Kornegay said.