Selfie of Wes on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City

Wes Nichols

Global Economics & Business

April 2, 2018 | Hello! This past week my class had a special session in New York City! Our meeting would be Monday, but most of us traveled there earlier to have a weekend exploring the city. My friends and I tried pastrami sandwiches from Katz and Pastrami Queen, pizza from Di Fara's, and tasty broth in a to-go cup from Brodo. Travel is always food-centered for me. We made up for all the extra calories by walking from Lower Manhattan all the way up to Central Park, a bit long at 10 miles on foot, but a great way to spend a day and get a feel for the different neighborhoods. We saw board game clubs in Soho, sidewalk flea markets in Midtown, coffee shops in Tribeca, and a march in Times Square. New Yorkers poured down Time Square and around Central Park, joining the protesters around the country to support the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in calls for gun reform.

On Monday we met as a class at the Bank of America building and heard an insider's view on the Dodd-Frank financial regulation debate we've been learning about in class. From the 51st floor, we had spectacular views of the Empire state building and the surrounding area. The tower itself was magnificent, and LEED platinum certified, a title granted to only the most sustainably constructed buildings.

AU (American University) spelled out in legos in red, white, and blue After a break for lunch that I spent mostly in the Lego store, we visited the headquarters of Bloomberg, a financial "software, data, and media company" with posts revenues in the billions. That's billion with a "B." Michael Bloomberg started the company in 1981, and following his wealth has engaged in extensive philanthropy, including promising to give away half of his wealth. Bloomberg even served as the mayor of New York until 2013. The tour showed us the various conference rooms where meetings are held, all named after cities where the company does business, and all with completely see through glass walls. It was explained to us that transparency is a core value of the company, and even in the structure of work spaces this value is taken seriously. There were some pretty great views here too, and you could almost feel the air buzz with activity. As our class has been improving our own analysis skills on breaking news stories and market activity, it was neat to see the pros in action.

Skyline of New York City Bloomberg is a hub for analyzing worldwide financial markets and the building lives and breathes news. Employees sit at computers connected to the Bloomberg terminal, a database of virtually all existing information on financial markets, and Bloomberg's main software product. Step out of the communal workspace to the free snack bar and there are screens in every direction showing up to the second headlines and stock movements so that analysts never miss a moment. Even in the restroom, the Bloomberg news station is playing 24/7. Even more constant than Bloomberg's bathroom broadcasting though is its customer support for the analysis tools it sells, thanks to the strategic positioning of its offices. When the NYC office closes for the night, the San Francisco office starts the day. When San Francisco goes to bed, Bloomberg Tokyo is clocking in. When the Tokyo office closes, Bloomberg London goes live, and then back to New York, around and around. The level of monitoring and sophistication at the company is something on the order of a Skynet or Ultron; overwhelming, but exciting.

After the tour of Bloomberg I boarded the bus back to DC, all too eager to rest after a whirlwind weekend.

Until next time!

Blog History

A snowy day at American University

Wes Nichols

Global Economics & Business

March 21, 2018 | I'm back from Spring Break! In our first Global Economics & Business class since before Spring break, we discussed the controversy surrounding the Dodd-Frank act. These were a set of financial regulations that came after the financial crisis of 2008. These rules were supposed to prevent the same problems from happening again, and also created a new agency to oversee consumer protection, which became the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

That same day we got to visit the agency! If a consumer is ripped off by a financial institution, they can call the CFPB and count on a response from someone in their corner. Nine times out of ten, a letter sent from the CFPB to the bank is enough to fix whatever the issue is. That's the most interesting thing we learned about the CFPB, its power is more in the perception of authority than the exercise of it. To be sure, they do exercise their authority when cases are broad enough to impact many customers, like in the Wells Fargo false accounts scheme, the details of which are still being hashed out.

The day after the CFPB, winter decided to show its face again (and on the first day of spring no less). It snowed for a full day, shutting down the university, most government agencies, and the motivation to do anything but curl up with a book and a warm drink.

The Challenge Cup Finals at 1776 One final event to mention, the Challenge Cup Finals! This was an event sponsored by a startup incubator called 1776. Our professor, Dr. Jeffrey Sosland, made it possible for us to go to for free, and it was so. cool. It was like American Idol meets Shark Tank. 20 startup companies from around the world were giving a pitch to an audience and panel of judges for a $100,000 prize. There were companies trying to improve how we get our food (grasshopper farms!), how college students connect to tutors, how to deal with various health issues, how parents travel with infants, how the developing world does finance and dental care, and so much more. The startup Cloudrino wants you to "rent" out the unused computing power on your devices to companies via blockchain, in exchange for a small cryptocurrency reward to you. This makes company storage cheaper, harder to hack, and way more futuristic. The winner was a startup app called Caribu, designed to help parents read to their kids when they are apart, a sort of "facetime meets kindle" experience. Their model has kept 85% of users paying the subscription every month and is free to troops who want to draw or read to their kids while abroad. Of course you have to stick around for the networking part afterwards, where you can listen to people in pea coats eat hors d'oeuvres and argue about their favorite proposals.

What an inspiring and quintessentially DC event!

The American University campus during a snowfall, taken by Washington Semester Program student ambassador Wes Nichols

Wes Nichols

Global Economics & Business

March 7, 2018 | Hello!

This was a week full of surprises -- from getting to hear a former Federal Reserve member rap about monetary policy in the Fed board room, to running into Stephen Colbert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, to the ups and downs of D.C.'s characteristically unpredictable weather, it's really kept me on my toes!

On Monday, our class visited the Federal Reserve building in DC and heard the incredible history of the room in which we sat. Nearly a century ago, and with the threat of Nazi occupied Europe looming large, Churchill and Roosevelt had actually convened in this very room to hash out their famed "victory in Europe first" strategy. The same pair reconvened shortly after and planned the invasion of Normandy (D-Day) from the very seats in which we were now sitting. Today, the Fed continues to be a guiding force of our economy, carrying out its dual mandate of keeping prices stable and maximizing employment. The previous chair of the Fed, Janet Yellen, took risks in her four-year term to see these goals accomplished. She didn't back down, even when criticism and uncertainty made her a controversial figure in DC. Her legacy will be remembered well. The new chair, Jerome Powell, was recently confirmed. Businesspeople and government officials will wait with bated breath to see what his take will be on monetary policy. Will Powell keep the cost of borrowing money low (and investment/job creation high), as there haven't been the typical signs of inflation that are a consequence of too-cheap money, or will he "take away the punchbowl" from investors by influencing interest rates to rise and slow down growth? It was cool to be in the epicenter of an international discussion! Our speaker ended his talk by performing a rap about monetary policy that left us in stitches.

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC In our free time that day, a friend and I decided to see the Lincoln memorial, thinking it might not be as busy. When we got there, Stephen Colbert and his team were recording a bit for his show, and I was utterly star struck. I love that guy. If you ever find yourself at the Lincoln memorial, be sure to take some time to read the 50-foot Gettysburg address inscribed to Lincoln's right. It will give you chills.

Even more surprises were in store for the American University campus as we witnessed the bitterly-cold snow melt into a warm 70 degrees by the end of the week. Faster than you could kick a hacky sack, the grassy quad in front of the library was full of more than a hundred students relaxing on blankets, throwing frisbees, reading, typing on laptops. Spring has apparently been anxiously waited for.

Washington Semester student Wes Nichols poses behind an artistic ice sculpture A few days later the temperature swung south again as we explored The Wharf, a seafood market along the Potomac River. While we were there, we found an ice sculptor showing off his skills, and it was really neat to see!

Here's to whatever is coming our way next week!

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Washington Semester Program students enjoying a bite to eat in Washington DC

Wes Nichols

Global Economics & Business

February 22, 2018 |

Hello! Boy, these last two weeks have been eventful.

In class, we began by hearing a speaker from the AFL-CIO - a federation of labor unions from around the country - talk about the history of globalization, labor, and NAFTA.

Ironically, the next speaker we heard from was from the Cato institute, a libertarian think tank, who also spoke on NAFTA. You can imagine they had very different opinions! There is such a diversity of perspectives in this city, it's a privilege to hear from so many and be forced to figure out your own in the process.

After after a long week of interning and class it was time to have a Super Bowl party on the weekend! Fly Eagles fly!

The women's suffrage statue in the United States Capitol Building in Washington DCThe next Monday, class was delayed due to ice, but later we had an amazing tour of the Capitol Building. The tour included some interesting displays and an inside look at how Congress works. You probably remember the basic idea of how a bill becomes law from Schoolhouse Rock, but did you know there is a special clock in the two chambers that lights up to show Congressional staffers when a vote will be?

In the Capitol, we saw incredible artwork as well. I didn't realize that the building is a museum as much as it is a functional federal building. My two favorite statues were that of Abe Lincoln and the leaders of the women's suffrage movement. The latter statue was intentionally left unfinished in honor of all the work that is still left to do in pursuit of gender equality. After that, we went into the House gallery to see Congress in action. Little did we know that the stories we heard Nancy Pelosi telling of young DACA recipients would later go on to be the longest speech in House history at 7+ hours!

Washington Semester Program students enjoy an evening at the Italian Embassy in Washington DC for a special Valentine's Day galaThere was one more big event this week! On Saturday, the Italian Embassy had a Valentine's gala with desserts, wine tasting, opera, and dancing! It was so fun to get dressed up with friends and make fools of ourselves on the dance floor.

Overall, my time here has been pretty occupied. There hasn't been much time to feel homesick, although from time to time it'll kick in. Thankfully, my wonderful parents sent me a package this week with some tea, a book, and a note. It's nice to be reminded of home.

Thanks for reading!

Washington Semester Program student Wes Nichols competing in a boat building race at the American University Wilson Aquatic Center

Wes Nichols

Global Economics & Business

February 8, 2018 | Hello! My name is Wes Nichols, I am an Economics and Environmental Studies student at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. I will be joining the Washington Semester Program at American University for the Spring semester, taking the Global Economics and Business concentration. I enjoy being outdoors, reading, meeting new people, anything involving friendly competition, and showing people pictures of my dogs. I am passionate about international trade and world development and am interested in a career in international development. DC has proven to be an excellent place to start

Orientation!

On my first day in the program, my roommate Steffen and I walked to the Spring Valley Building for our orientation, where we heard all about AU services, DC life, and important things to know about getting around the city.

After getting my unlimited student metro pass, I headed downtown and ended up wandering into the Smithsonian American History museum a few hours before closing. There, I saw the same flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled Banner. I even touched fragments of the shells that were the original "bombs bursting in air."

Weekend Scavenger Hunt!

For the last orientation event of the week, we did a team scavenger hunt across the city, which was exhausting but so fun. To complete the challenges, my 10-person team went into banks asking for 2 dollar bills, went up the tower of Trump International Hotel, and visited close to a dozen other sites. All told we ended the day with some light blisters and a third-place finish.

Getting Started with my Seminar and my Internship

In my Global Economics and Business seminar we have been learning all about trade and globalization. We address questions like: "How do countries decide to produce or import a good?", "What explains the populist movements around the world?"

Washington Semester Program students attend an event at the Wilson Center in downtown Washington DC Class begins with a two-hour lecture, and then we break for lunch and meet up again to hear from our guest speaker for the day.

The first week, we met a representative from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a national security think tank. Later, we went to the Newseum and heard about the role of a free press in democratic life.

For my internship, I work at the US Trade and Development Agency and have really enjoyed it so far. The purpose of USTDA is right in the name: pursue the development goals of international partners, by promoting US trade. At USTDA I spend a lot of time writing about what the organization is up to, whether it's through tweets, press releases, or summaries of relevant events I attend around the city. Recently I attended an event at the Woodrow Wilson Center about NAFTA. Ambassadors, mayors, and business leaders from the US, Mexico, and Canada spoke on the importance of preserving (and updating) this critical trade agreement.

It was interesting being inside a federal agency during a shutdown, even if it didn't last long. Everyone compulsively saved their files through the day, checked for news updates, and debated whether those leftovers ought to be left in the lounge fridge if the government didn't reopen soon.

Adventuring Around DC

Washington Semester Program Global Economics & Business student Wes Nichols explores Washington DC on his ownAfter my last class on Wednesday, I spent some time exploring downtown and ended up in the Renwick Gallery. Inside was an exhibit I would never have anticipated! Originally intended to hone the observation skills of Harvard forensic students, a criminologist and artist named Francis Lee created miniature dollhouse crime scenes with hidden clues, which are now on public display. The scenes are partially inspired by real cases, but the exhibit doesn't have a horror vibe. It's as if you stepped into a miniature I Spy/Nancy Drew crossover as museum goers crowd around detailed dioramas and swap theories about what really happened. Each scene has a backstory which may or may not be true, so the challenge is to find what pieces don't fit the story.

Later that day, friends and I attended a competition on campus to race cardboard boats. We had one hour to build from leftover cardboard and duct tape. The fastest to cross the 40m pool and back won. I went for a canoe style, which earned me a solid last place finish.

It's weird how everything seems to have happened so fast, but how normal things already feel. I can't wait to see what this upcoming week will hold! Thanks for reading!