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Economics Comes Alive: Upper School Teacher John Webber's Engaging Speaker Series
Jen Belcher

Five minutes have passed since the end of class, but Ethan Cowen ’25 is still glued to his laptop, firing off questions for Upper School Mathematics Teacher Brad Poprik P'24, '24. This isn’t an unusual scene for Pingry, except this isn’t Mr. Poprik's class—this is Upper School Economics Teacher John Webber's Economics: Principles and Issues class, where Mr. Poprik is the latest guest in his impactful "Economics Speaker Series."

The speaker series brings the real-world application of economics directly into the classroom. "I got the idea from a colleague who was looking for ways to enhance his AP program after testing concluded," Mr. Webber explains. "Here at Pingry, we have such a rich network of alumni, parents, and colleagues with diverse experiences in economics. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to tap into that resource."

And a valuable resource it has become, transforming the classroom into a dynamic forum. Students gain firsthand insights through engaging dialogue with the speakers. These sessions not only showcase diverse career paths in economics and offer practical advice on college applications and internships, but also reveal the vast array of fields where an understanding of economics proves beneficial. The students’ enthusiasm has been palpable—they eagerly look forward to each session, hungry for the knowledge and perspectives the speakers bring.

The process of finding speakers for the series has felt as organic as the program itself. Mr. Webber has found his connections everywhere, from planting the seed at his Back-to-School Day for parents to recommendations from colleagues.

The inaugural speaker was Ethan’s father, Dr. David Cowen P'19, '26, who holds a Ph.D. in History of Finance. Dr. Cowen and his team arrived with briefcases of fascinating artifacts, including old bonds signed by George Washington, to enhance their presentation on Alexander Hamilton and the establishment of the monetary system.

This emphasis on personal connections continued with Mr. Webber's colleague, Upper School Computer Science Teacher David Gonzalez, who served as the impetus for the speaker series. Mr. Gonzalez shared insights from his experience as a consultant, offering students a glimpse into another economics-related career path.

Recent alumnus Frankie Dillon '17, son of Upper School Spanish Teacher Margi Dillon P'17, '18, '20, further broadened the program's scope. Frankie, who worked at the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City and served as a research fellow at Harvard Business School, was able to share about his time at Pingry as well as fresh insights on careers in economics, which were particularly relevant for younger students.

The fourth speaker, Stephanie Link P'25, a former Pingry trustee with a long and distinguished career in finance and a frequent contributor to CNBC, provided students with valuable knowledge about investing and the realities of life working in the financial sector.

Finally, this past week, the class had the opportunity to learn from a familiar face on campus—Mr. Poprik. Prior to his 17 years at Pingry, Mr. Poprik worked in the finance world as a derivatives trader. With the ease of an expert educator, Mr Poprik delved into the world of financial economics, captivating his audience and sparking student interest in this specialized field.

The program's impact is evident in Mr. Webber's enthusiasm. He expressed both his surprise at and deep gratitude of the generous participants who have shared not only their time but also fascinating personal stories and invaluable insights. When asked if his other colleagues could implement a similar series in their own classrooms, Mr. Webber recognizes the program’s unique fit within the curriculum, but firmly believes the core ideas hold immense value and can be adapted to different settings. Economics, he concludes, permeates every aspect of life, and exposing students to its diverse applications can be incredibly enriching.

Contact: Jennifer Belcher, Assistant Director of Communications | Internal Strategy