At the St. Louis Fed, new chapters are being written in our story every day by employees in every division, department and unit. Our We Are Central profile series introduces you to people who help make the Bank central to the nation’s economy.
By Noelle Ullery, Intern
Jeannette Bennett is the senior economic education specialist of the St. Louis Fed’s Memphis Branch. Her committed service to economic education made her the recipient of the 2021 Bessie B. Moore Service Award.
This national award recognizes individuals whose outstanding and dedicated service has had a significant impact on the delivery and enhancement of economic education.
Most recently, Bennett exhibited this by helping design a seven-unit high school personal finance course, A “Standard” Personal Finance Curriculum (PDF), via a project she led. In honor of her efforts, she received the 2021 Children’s Education Program Award—General from the Institute for Financial Literacy for the curriculum she helped design.
With efforts like Bennett’s, there is hope that financial literacy education will become abundant in our communities, schools and homes, IFL Executive Director Rachel Gordon wrote in a letter informing the Bank’s Economic Education unit of the award.
In a recent interview, Bennett discussed her role in the Economic Education unit, her recent honors and the many audiences she serves.
Seventeen years ago, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis began a new initiative commonly referred to as “Branching Out.” A decision was made to hire an economic education specialist in each of the St. Louis Fed’s three branches to extend the outreach. At the time, I was a public school administrator with an extensive background in economic education.
For years I had promoted economic education in various ways, including teaching economic education as an adjunct professor, coordinating summer economic education workshops, and writing numerous curricula for both state and national levels. Somehow, I became aware of the newly created position at the Memphis Branch and was confident that this was a position for which I was prepared. It seemed like a perfect fit, and [I] was overwhelmed with the fact that I had been preparing for this position even before it existed!
Being the senior economic education specialist in the Memphis zone, I have primary responsibility for serving educators throughout western Tennessee, eastern Arkansas and the northern half of Mississippi. Working throughout the years, I have developed a close relationship with educators and many colleges and universities. Designing, creating and presenting workshops and professional development sessions to meet their specific needs and requests has expanded over the years; circumstances often change, so adapting to change is important.
There are also events outside the Memphis Zone that I participate in by presenting at state and national conferences. Additionally, writing assignments work into the calendar to address the goal of keeping resources timely and up to date. Clearly, my calendar is complicated!
Connecting with educators is the most rewarding part of my work. They inspire me, and it’s an honor and so gratifying to feel the connection that brings synergy to teaching and learning! This connection has often led to unique opportunities to do more.
For example, I have conducted workshops and trainings for a wide variety of educators from all types of schools and even some [audiences] that are often overlooked, such as the prison population. I’ve been the keynote graduation speaker for different prison systems several times and have spent hours forming my thoughts on what can I say that will matter since some of the inmates are lifers and others have sentences for many years.
It’s an indescribable experience to be on stage while the room fills with inmates in caps and gowns marching in to receive GEDs or specialized diplomas for skill programs. And, as they walk on stage to receive their diplomas along with a handshake, I’m always honored to hopefully make a difference in some small way. At one event when I had finished my talk, the warden who was with me on stage whispered to me, “They liked you.” I said, “How do you know?” His reply was, “Oh, you’d know it if they didn’t!” It has truly been one of the most gratifying things to meet the challenge of this special and often overlooked audience.
Of course, it’s great to have a Page One Economics: Focus on Finance article published, too. I try to choose a topic that is timely and many of my articles have required much research to have the most current information and accuracy. It’s always a learning experience for me. This brings a lot of pride—not because I know everything about the topic, but because I learn so much in writing the articles. An example of a recent article is Unemployment Insurance: A Tried and True Safety Net. In view of COVID-19, unemployment insurance had become a very relevant and timely topic to explore.
It has been said that economics is a way of thinking and this certainly is true for me, both inside and outside the Bank. For example, I enjoy working with plants—roses, hydrangeas, crape myrtles, camellias and so many others. And I’ve bought them all, but they were all “on sale” or even in the clearance section!
I also play the piano and this love of music sometimes serves as a connection to teaching and learning economics. Some of my favorite workshops were designed around the “Entertaining Economics” theme. [It’s] such an exciting way to teach how music is part of the economy and often includes interesting insight into history.