The formation of the Webster Economic Association (WEA) was inspired after chess grandmaster Manuel Leon Hoyos went to the American Economic Association’s annual meeting in Chicago this January.
Hoyos was accompanied by chess teammates Vasif Durarbayli and Ashwin Jayaram at the economic conference in Chicago. Hoyos serves as the WEA’s president, while Durarbayli is vice president and Jayaram is treasurer.
Hoyos said it was a meaningful learning experience to hear from world renowned economists. He also said he Durarbayli and Jayaram to have a place where all students at Webster University could engage and learn more about economics.
“So we are hoping to provide for this kind of opportunity,” Hoyos said. “Not only for students in economics, but for those interested in economics. We are hoping to have a speaker series, debates and panels.”
For their first event, the group invited Webster alumna Maria Alejandra Arias to be the guest speaker. Arias works for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis as a senior research associate. Arias interned at the Federal Reserve while attending Webster and started working there full time after graduating in 2013. She said she supports economic research at her job.
“I work with two Ph.D. economists,” Arias said. “I help them put together the presentation, find data, analyze and summarize data.”
Luis Mercado is a biology major, but came to the opening event because of her interest in economics. Mercado said she was most interested in how Arias transitioned from Webster to the Federal Reserve.
“She talked about Webster being a small school and she is competing against all of those great schools getting in,” Mercado said. “I am in the same situation looking for internships being a junior who will graduate next year. I feel more confident and feel like I can pursue a job I want.”
Hoyos said it is hard to balance school, chess and the WEA, but said he has a strong motivation to keep going. Hoyos also said he is considering going for a Ph.D. in economics.
Business professor Steve Hinson serves as an advisor to the club. According to Hoyos, Hinson was very supportive of the WEA’s goals.
“Career Planning and Development helped us with this event, and the recognition of this organization,” Hoyos said. “We have an executive board and we have support of 40 students who signed in support of the creation of the association.”
Jayaram is working on obtaining his master’s degree in finance at Webster. He met Hoyos competing against each other in a chess match in 2009. Jayaram said economics is a subject that people really need to understand.
“I think after the election and the politics have shown, the working knowledge of economics is quite important,” Jayaram said. “Not just for a professional career, but even on the standards going on in day-to-day lives. So even if people don’t go into the economics field, it is quite important.”
Hoyos is originally from Merida, Mexico, which is located in the Yucatan Peninsula. He said the region he was born is ravaged by drug cartels and drug trafficking. Hoyos said one of the reasons he became interested in economics was to understand why drug cartels exist and thrive.
He compared drug cartels to multinational corporations and said it was a misconception that it is just a Mexican problem.
“Before Mexico, it was Columbia and other places who profit from the demand of drugs,” Hoyos said. “I think there should be more efficient ways to fight this problem. Because it plagues the community and security of not only the U.S., but Mexico.”
Hoyos said he was interested in economic development in St. Louis and would like to have a guest speaker for the topic.
“I think when you see north St. Louis compared to Clayton, there is something wrong,” Hoyos said. “How can we have these disparities in education, income, life expectancy and crime rates? I would like to understand or try to understand what makes these disparities.”