Economics alumna leads St. Louis Fed’s award-winning education initiatives
It’s not often that economists achieve celebrity status, but Mary Suiter got a little taste of it in March.
Suiter, a University of Missouri–St. Louis alumna and the assistant vice president and economic education officer at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, was in London for the Central Banking Awards, accepting an award for the St. Louis Fed’s financial inclusion initiatives.
She hobnobbed with colleagues from countries such as Australia, South Africa, Luxembourg, Israel, Ukraine, China and Malaysia at the London Marriott Hotel in Grosvenor Square, less than two miles from Buckingham Palace. After accepting the award, she had her picture taken with the trophy in front of a backdrop.
Her very own red-carpet moment.
“That was Hollywood-like. That was fun,” Suiter said. “It was quite interesting and very different from most things I attend.”
That’s because Suiter is used to doing most of her work behind the scenes. She’s responsible for all of the economic education programming that her bank produces for the Eighth Federal Reserve District, which includes most of Missouri, all of Arkansas and parts of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. The St. Louis Fed produces curriculum for K-12 classrooms and a monthly publication called “Page One Economics.” It also maintains two websites full of easily accessible educational materials for economics teachers.
Last year, the bank ran more than 200 programs for educators. Its “Econ Lowdown” learning portal, which started under Suiter’s supervision in 2010 with one online course, has expanded to 60 online courses and more than 120 videos. The St. Louis Fed’s online material even gets used overseas in Australia and the United Kingdom.
“It certainly is unlike anything any other federal reserve bank has,” Suiter said. “That’s why other federal reserve banks have agreed to put their materials in that portal because we have this tool. That is something we created here at the St. Louis Fed, and I’m really proud of that and the reach that we have.”
Suiter has made a life’s work out of the affinity for economic education she discovered while pursuing her bachelor’s degree at UMSL.
After starting her undergraduate career as an engineering major at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Suiter transferred back closer to home. She couldn’t afford any of the St. Louis schools that offered engineering degrees and had heard good things about UMSL, so she started taking business classes.
Suiter took accounting and did well, but she disliked the subject. She took some economics courses with former faculty member Sarapage McCorkle, and one day after class, McCorkle suggested Suiter become an econ major.
Suiter was receptive but hesitant.
“I didn’t want to major in anything where I couldn’t bring my math credits with me,” Suiter said. “She said my math credits could come with me, so I said, ‘I’m in.’”
After Suiter earned her economics degree in 1985, McCorkle hired her on part time at the UMSL Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Education. Suiter worked there for more than 20 years, eventually becoming center director before leaving for the St. Louis Fed in 2006.
McCorkle was one of a handful of prominent female mentors at UMSL who helped shape Suiter as an economist and educator. Suiter said Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor Susan Feigenbaum and former professor Sharon Levin were tireless advocates for women in economics, and Education Professor Emerita Helene Sherman was instrumental in guiding Suiter toward a PhD in 2007.
“I absolutely loved the merger of economics and helping people understand economics in a way that was meaningful to them,” Suiter said. “I was just so passionate about it.”
The Central Banking Awards took special note of the St. Louis Fed’s student board of directors program, which gives local high schoolers the opportunity to work alongside and learn from bank employees throughout their senior years.
This year’s class includes students from schools such as Affton, St. Louis Public Schools, Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, Cor Jesu Academy, Jennings, Lindbergh, McCluer North and Oakville. Suiter said one of the program alumni went on to graduate from college and come back to work at the Fed full time.
“Students often need somebody who’s going to reach out and say ‘We want you here. You’re a part of us,’” said Suiter, who earned a distinguished alumni award at the UMSL Founders Dinner last October. “That’s a valuable thing that I saw at UMSL, and I try to do that here when I talk to women who work here, students who are studying economics. I try to apply those skills and engage people, if not to make this a career, then to at least begin to understand the value of economics and understanding the economy.”
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