A Legacy of Economic Education

Collage of photos of Bonnie Meszaros

Bonnie Meszaros, associate director of UD’s Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE) at the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, was profiled in the spring 2020 edition of the UD Magazine.

Meszaros sat down with Lerner to talk more about her career, the work of the CEEE and what she hopes for the future of economic education in Delaware:

Q: How did you originally get involved with economic education? What was it about that area of study that initially interested you?

Meszaros: I had no intentions of ever studying economics but my husband was transferred here, to Delaware, and I needed to take an economics course before I could start teaching in Wilmington public schools. I registered for the Economics for Educators course at the University of Delaware.

I ended up taking the class from a new UD professor named Jim O’Neill. That class was an eye opener for me on a number of levels. After a few days, I realized that I had really been doing my students a disservice by not teaching them economics and this started me down the path of learning more about this discipline.

Then, when the course was finished, Jim offered me this job and I actually told him “no.” I went back home that night and I said to my husband, “You know Jim O’Neil? I met with him and he offered me this job. You know, I think I’m just not cut out to teach teachers.” My husband said to me, “Are you nuts? What’s wrong with you this is a great opportunity!”

So I called Jim back and told him that if he hadn’t found anyone for the position, I was interested. I took the job in the summer of 1974 and I’m still here.

Q: In your over 45 years of working with the CEEE, what is the impact or what are the changes you have seen in economic education in Delaware?

Meszaros: When I first started working for the CEEE, teachers weren’t very interested in teaching economics in schools and there wasn’t a state standard requiring them to. We had to really sell the idea of why economic education was important and how we could equip teachers for the job, and it was a hard sell. We started out by getting small groups of teachers who became passionate about it and became our voice out in the community and in their schools.

When the state of Delaware passed Delaware State Standards for economics, and more recently for personal finance, that whole mindset shifted. All of a sudden teachers were more receptive to working with us because their students were going to be tested on economics. Today students are tested at the end of 4th, 7th and 11th grades on all of the social sciences: history, geography and civics, but also economics.

I think that’s what’s going to happen with the personal finance standards as well. They were passed in 2018 and schools have to start implementing them in 2020. Even though they’re not going to be tested yet, I think we’ll see an increase in schools asking us how we can help.

The strength of this center, from the very beginning, is the focus on the power of the teacher. Helping those teachers to not only know the content but also providing them with materials they can use in the classroom and that, for me, is the most important piece.

It’s gotten easier for us in some ways but our programs have grown tremendously. Back in 1974, we used to offer three summer one-week institutes. I’d go into a half dozen schools during the year to offer a program to the Social Studies Department and reach a few hundred students. From 1994 and 1995, we did 33 programs for 675 teachers. Last year, we did 167 programs for over 3,075 teachers, so that is quite the growth.

This reflects that: one, we’re offering something that teachers value, and two, teachers see that it’s important to be teaching economics and personal finance so they’re reaching out for help. Our center has been effective over the years raising money to fund both our time and classroom resources needed to support this learning so that teachers don’t have to go out and spend their own money.

Q: How and why did the Masters in Economics and Entrepreneurship for Educators (MAEEE) program get started?

Meszaros: When Jim (O’Neill) started the MAEEE degree program, his vision was to see the work already being done by the CEEE in Delaware being done in other states, as well. He would tell the teachers in the MAEEE program that, “We know you’re here to take coursework, and that’s really important, but that’s not the most important thing to me. The most important thing is that you go back and then you share with other teachers and engage other teachers to have the same passion that you have about teaching economics.” The program has been very successful in that.

Q: What was your role when you started at the CEEE and how has it grown?

Meszaros: Jim O’Neil felt that just because you know economics doesn’t mean you can teach economics. He felt that we needed to be out in the schools working with teachers and helping them find materials or demonstrating how to teach a particular concept. And so he created a position called the field consultant. He was really the first person in the country to think that there needed to be a center with somebody who was actually working full time with teachers and schools.

So my initial job responsibility was just to be out in the schools working one-on-one with teachers or with small groups of teachers. As the demand for our services grew, I became the assistant director and then the associate director of the Center. We’ve been able to find amazing people to work with us. What I like about all of the people that work with me is that we sit down and we say, “this is what we should be doing,” and they find a way to get it done. That frees me up to do the things I love to do.

I think over the years, the other thing that has changed for me is that I have become known as, for lack of a better word, an expert on teaching economics and personal finance to children. And that’s not how I started out, I was a high school and middle school educator. But I truly believe that with economics, like other content areas, we need to start early and then just keep spiraling that curriculum through the grades. We’ve got to start young to have a solid foundation to successfully build on.

Q: What is it about Delaware, and UD specifically, that inspired you to spend the bulk of your professional career working here?

Meszaros: What I have valued most is that I was given a lot of freedom to choose and craft programs for teachers here in Delaware, set my own goals and figure out how we were going to accomplish those goals. Every year is different. Every month is different. There’s always a new challenge, which is probably why I haven’t retired yet.

If I hadn’t been challenged, and other people hadn’t pushed me, I probably would have moved on or gone back to the classroom. There are other people out there that have the same passion. But, you know, until I’ve reached the day when I wake up in the morning, and I think, “Oh, I just don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to go to work,” then it will be time for me to quit but it hasn’t happened yet. 

Q: What are your goals for the future of economic education in Delaware and the work of the CEEE?

Meszaros: I will be retiring in a couple of years and my goal is to see that the culture that we have here, the working environment and the respect we have from teachers around the state, continue after I’m gone. Jim O’Neill and I built a culture that is helping teachers and is valued by school districts. I would like to see that continue.

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