Prior to arriving at StFX in 2010, Dr. Greg Tkacz spent eighteen years at the Bank of Canada in Ottawa. His work with the Bank studied the correlation between financial markets and the economy, and his teaching at StFX aims to increase students’ awareness of the interconnectedness of real-world events and their economic implications. Over the past decade, Dr. Tkacz has driven the growth of the Department of Economics by creating a platform from which some of StFX’s finest students have launched.
Dr. Tkacz and his colleagues take great care to follow the careers of their graduates, and current students are often reminded that their predecessors have achieved stunning success in post-graduate programs and in professional careers – as in the case of Gabrielle Vasey, currently completing a PhD in economics at the University of Pennsylvania, or Michael Thomson, a senior analyst in California providing expert witness reports in health insurance, finance, and intellectual property disputes. There have been more than fifty honours students in Economics in the past four years, and the department keeps a close eye on their careers beyond StFX, using this information to inspire and drive current students.
One of the most remarkable achievements of Dr. Tkacz and the faculty of the Department of Economics, though, has been the consistent placement of graduates with the Bank of Canada. Since 2014, seven StFX students have been chosen as Research Assistants with the Bank – a number that is remarkable for a small, undergraduate university in Nova Scotia. Each year, the Bank of Canada receives 600-700 applicants for 10-20 positions, and StFX has had at least one successful applicant each year. Dr. Tkacz notes that the feedback from the Bank is “outstanding”: “our students were highly-touted right off the bat, and then did outstanding work while they were there.”
Casey Jones was the first successful applicant, in 2014. She stayed with the Bank for two years, as a Research Assistant. The Bank supported her study at Carleton University, and she is now an economist with Finance Canada. She was conscious of the importance of proving herself in a tough field: “Going to the Bank as an RA, I knew I was the first from StFX. I wanted to make a great impression not only for my career but also to show that the StFX Economics Department could produce students of equal quality to larger academic institutions.”
Bethany Madsen and Kirsten Gallant both successfully applied to the Bank in 2018, making them the sixth and seventh Research Assistants from StFX. Remarkably, of the seven, four have been athletes on the StFX Rowing team (as were Vasey and Thomson): Jones, Megan MacDonald, Matt Cormier, and Madsen.
Madsen sees clear parallels between rowing and an honours degree in economics: “In both cases, I went in knowing they were going to be difficult. But when you’re close with your teammates, you think, If they can do it, I can do it. It’s the same in economics. I used to have very bad math anxiety. Now I think, Give me a derivative. There’s a safety net of people that are going through the same things.”
As she wove through the application process for the Bank of Canada position, Madsen was strongly encouraged by her former rowing teammate, Matt Cormier. He’d had the same role in 2016-2017, and went on to do an MA at Queen’s; he now works in Competition Economics at Charles River Associates in Toronto. Cormier notes: “Lochaber Lake was the most important classroom to me during my time at StFX. The lessons I learnt there about perseverance, work ethic, time management, and approaching challenges analytically and purposefully are as essential to my pursuits after leaving campus as they were to my academic work outside of rowing. Being surrounded by a group of motivated student-athletes who were working towards big goals – both in and outside of sport – made me push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of doing.”
Dr. Katie Edwards, coach of the StFX Rowing club and assistant professor of English, is not surprised that so many of her athletes have also enjoyed academic success. “Like Greg,” she says, “I keep track of our graduates. There is a strong and direct correlation between the personality type that produces good rowers, and that which produces good students: driven, self-motivated, and possessing an enormous capacity for hard work.”
She is proud of the achievements of her rowers, but also expresses admiration for Dr. Tkacz and his colleagues: “I think the faculty members in Economics are doing phenomenal work. They set a very high bar for their students – and then work with them until they reach it. Greg and his colleagues are among the very best faculty members at StFX.”