On Oct. 4, Bonnie Meszaros looked out over the crowd that had just given her a standing ovation for her induction into the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame. The recognition capped an almost 50-year journey that began when Meszaros, a young teacher, discovered she hadn’t checked all the right boxes.
Newly moved to Delaware with her husband Craig in the 1970s, Meszaros was happy to land a job teaching history in middle school.
“But then I got this letter in the mail from the state that said I wasn’t certified to teach secondary social studies because I had never taken an econ course,” she recalled. So she signed up for an economics for educators class at the University of Delaware with the goal of doing enough to pass and get back to her job.
That class, though, opened her eyes to the need to teach economics concepts to children, which became her lifelong passion and work. She went on to further studies at UD’s College of Education and Human Development, and joined the Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship (CEEE) in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, eventually becoming associate director.
Meszaros joins a distinguished list of women in the Hall of Fame, including famed astronomer Annie Jump Cannon, writer Alice Dunbar Nelson, First Lady Jill Biden, U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, publisher and abolitionist Mary Ann Shadd Carey and more.
Delaware First Lady Tracey Quillen Carney said at the induction ceremony that the award “recognizes journeys fueled by a too-often-unrecognized — even by ourselves — power of women.”
The CEEE’s first director, James O’Neill, who taught that original economics class Meszaros had to take to become certified, was impressed by Meszaros and the work she did with a community project as a followup to the course.
“I always look for the people that have fire in their eyes,” O’Neill, who led the center for more than 40 years, said. “And Bonnie was one that initially had a lot of initiative and drive.”
In the years since, to help build a solid foundation of economics and personal finance in children’s lives, Meszaros has trained teachers and students around the state, developed national curriculum, and even traveled abroad to teach economics in former Soviet countries.
“It’s just not anything that was on my radar when I came out of college,” Meszaros said.
Meszaros has long been a proponent of teaching children economic concepts from a young age, and building on that knowledge with concepts like opportunity cost when we make choices, and how scarcity dictates what society produces.
“They live in an economic world, and they need to be able to understand,” she said.
“She never acts like what she’s done has been that big of a deal,” said Andrew Hill, assistant vice president for economic education at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, who also works to teach economic principles to young people. “But she really is that amazing.”
Meszaros has had a huge impact on economic educators nationwide, he said, including via her work leading the writing team that developed the Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics. “That was a huge national effort that’s had a tremendous impact on the teaching of economics in kindergarten all the way through high school nationwide,” he said. “Other countries have looked at those standards as well, as models.”
Then there are her local efforts with CEEE — “There’s probably not an economics teacher in the state of Delaware who hasn’t been touched by her,” Hill noted. “There are people who are teaching economics today, who learned economics, let’s say in elementary, middle and high school, who were taught by someone who she trained.”
“I think that whatever I was able to accomplish [through CEEE], a lot of it was due to having good reinforcement from Bonnie,” O’Neill said.
“People look at her as the person that knows everything that there is to know about how to teach economics, how to reach students, how to put programs together, and that’s her legacy,” said Carlos Asarta, James B. O’Neill Director of the Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship. He cited her devotion and passion for economic education, and the way she’s mentored UD students, saying, “Her impact is just unmeasurable.”
Mary Suiter, recently retired as assistant vice president and education officer at the St. Louis Federal Reserve, got her master’s in economic education from UD and became good friends with Meszaros. They’ve since worked on a number of projects together, including both writing curriculum, and teaching educators in the U.S. and overseas how to create their own curriculum.
“She’s not only reached thousands of teachers in Delaware and beyond … but she’s also helped develop so many materials that teachers take into the classroom to reach students,” Suiter said. “… [There are] hundreds of thousands of students in the United States and around the world who have been touched by something she’s done to help them understand their economic world better.”
Meszaros helped expand the presence of women in her arena. “When I went to my first econ ed conference in 1975, there were five women in a room full of white male economists,” she told the crowd.
Reflecting on her start, she said O’Neill made sure she met everyone who was a leader in their field. “And I hope that I’ve been able to do that for others as I’ve moved through the years, giving them opportunities that someone else gave me.”
Her colleagues emphatically agree she’s done just that.
“So many of the opportunities that I’ve had over the years have been because I was introduced through Bonnie, or they knew that I had worked with Bonnie, or that I could use Bonnie as a calling card. And she was always very, very generous about that,” Hill said.
“I’ve met so many people through her,” said Ronni Cohen, who met Bonnie as a fellow teacher in the 70s, and has worked with her ever since on projects like the annual Meaningful Economics competition for Delaware elementary students.
Cohen, who nominated Meszaros for the Hall of Fame, called Meszaros a born teacher and someone who has been a source of encouragement and advice. “She’s very nurturing in encouraging you. She sort of finds what you do best, and she helps you develop it.”
Suiter called Meszaros positive and affirming, a master at getting people to work together. “She just knows how to work with people and help them.”
“She’s the consummate team player,” Hill said. “She’s exceptionally kind, and she shares her personal time. She also shares the stage with others, and she just knows her stuff.”
Meszaros also got support for her nomination from Delaware officials who have worked with her.
Former Gov. Jack Markell wrote, “As I think about the impact that Bonnie has had over the years, it can be found in the transformation of literally thousands of lives of children (and their families) who better understand what it means to be financially responsible and who are actually implementing what they learned as a result of her efforts.”
State Treasurer Colleen Davis noted Meszaros’ “energetic classroom style,” saying she’d experienced it firsthand. “Educators knew they had a comrade in Bonnie,” she wrote.
This is not Meszaros’ first recognition. In 2019, CEEE named the Bonnie T. Meszaros Economic Educator of the Year Award after her, and this year the National Association of Economic Educators created the Bonnie T. Meszaros Curriculum Leadership Award. She’s also received numerous awards from NAEE.
Meszaros said she was really shocked when she got the call about her induction into the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame. It left her a little tongue-tied, so much so that after she got off the phone and composed her thoughts, she reached out again to let them know she realized what an honor it was.
She admits she doesn’t like the spotlight. But, Meszaros said, “You spend your career working on something and you don’t really look back on it and say, ‘Have I made a difference?’ And this has forced me to stop and think that maybe after 49 years of working with teachers and econ ed, that maybe I have made a difference.”
Ever since the press release came out about her recognition, Meszaros said, it’s been a wonderful journey hearing from former colleagues and teachers. “I’m really honored.”
She told those gathered at the induction ceremony, “By far, my most rewarding experiences [have] been working with teachers here in Delaware.”