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Random Acts of Curiosity

With a lot of smarts and some serendipity, PA students win National Economics Challenge in overtime tiebreaker.

May 28, 2009 —When history and social science instructor Tony Rotundo asked fellow teacher Carroll Perry a seemingly trivial question about G-20 members, neither man could have predicted the answer would propel four PA students to place first in the 2009 National Economics Competition in New York City last week. For more photos from the event, click here.

“I had been reading in the paper about the G-20 conference that was about to happen,” says Rotundo of the international body of finance ministers and central banks known as the Group of 20. “The articles never mentioned which countries were members, and no matter what principle of selection I used, I couldn’t count 20.”

Perry did some research and learned that the G-20’s twentieth member was not a single country, but a group of small countries under the umbrella of the European Union. Perry challenged his economics students to name all G-20 members as well.

At the same time, Kwon-Yong Jin ’09 was urging three of Perry’s economics students (Tiffany Li ’09, James Foster ’09, and Benjamin Elder ’09) to join him in competing in the National Economics Competition. The competition, which is the only national economics challenge for high school students in the country, began with 8,000 students from 34 states.

Dubbed the “spiritual father” of the group, Jin, who is self-taught in AP micro- and macroeconomics, contacted the event’s organizers and registered the foursome for the competition’s Adam Smith Division for students in advanced placement-level economics courses. It was Phillips Academy’s first time competing in the 9-year-old tournament, which is sponsored by the Council for Economic Education and the Goldman Sachs Foundation.

“We thought the competition would be a fun way to pursue our interest in economics,” says Jin, who in his spare time watches intermediate micro- and macroeconomic lectures on various college web sites. “As we practiced taking tests and doing quiz bowl rounds, we had the chance to identify our strengths and weaknesses and dig deeper into all areas of economics.”

After having clinched the state and regional competitions, the team traveled to the national competition in New York City on May 17. Over the course of the two-day challenge in the Scholastic Auditorium, the foursome contended with three other teams in the Adam Smith Division to compete in a final buzzer round with 2007 champs Iolani High School from Hawaii.

In a twist of fate, with PA one point behind and only one question left, the two teams were posed Rotundo’s once innocuous question about members of the G-20. PA tied the score and ultimately secured a 2009 championship winning the tiebreaker by a mere point.

“The G-20 question was a total fluke, but their victory was anything but,” says Perry, whose team members each won $4,000 in savings bonds along with some serious bragging rights. “I’ve never seen such a hardworking group of motivated self-starters.”