Experiential economics course gives students hands-on research experience

Economics can often seem like an abstract field of study, characterized by esoteric numbers and formulas; however, York University Professor Ida Ferrara knows that the subject area is far more tangible than that.

“Economics is a part of our daily lives,” she said. “Economics is everywhere.”

Students enrolled in ECON 4089: Research Seminar in Economics will understand exactly what Ferrara means.

The one-term, writing intensive, upper-level elective course is aimed at enhancing students’ research, analytical and communication skills. It also guides them through the process of producing a polished research paper.

Student Reyam Alkobaisi, delivering a presentation in class in November 2019 about her work on Toronto housing prices

ECON 4089 was redesigned by Professor Tsvety Karagyozova and Ferrara, both in the Department of Economics.

It incorporates community-based research with the support of a curriculum innovation grant from the Academic Innovation Fund, Office of the Vice-President Academic & Provost at York University.

So far, it has been taught four times by Karagyozova, with support from Ferrara as a community partner. It provides advanced undergraduate students majoring in economics with the opportunity to conduct community-based research – an experiential education approach – in order to gain the skills necessary to operate in a professional working environment.

ECON 4089 has offered students the opportunity to work on projects covering diverse topics including: poverty, microinsurance, economic development, foreign direct investment, corporate social responsibility and charitable giving. Students have worked in partnership with the C.D. Howe Institute, the City of Toronto, the City of Richmond Hill, Risk and Insurance Studies Centre at York, DUKE Heights BIA, MicroInsurance Centre, SoChange, Waste Diversion Ontario, and York U – TD Community Engagement Centre.

In the Fall 2019, student Reyam Alkobaisi worked with the Ontario Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to understand the underlying factors behind the surge of housing prices in Toronto.

She says the course allowed her to apply the theoretical learnings she acquired during her first few years at York. “I was able to take a lot of that knowledge and apply it to a real-life problem,” Alkobaisi said. “And I think that will significantly help me in my future career.”

Alkobaisi credits her education in the course with inspiring her to pursue a career in economics, either with the government or the private sector.

To Karagyozova, this is the kind of impact she intends for the course to have.

“As academicians, we have three major mandates: research, teaching and service,” she said.

“We can segregate these three mandates, but a community-based research course offers a unique opportunity to integrate them all for the benefit of the instructor, students, and the broader community,” Ferrara added.