Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis ©Siede Preis/Getty Images

Gateway to the West – a research and practical assignment in St Louis and the surrounding area by Professor Beate Jüttner-Nauroth

The university

If I had been asked 20 years ago if I could write a report about my time at New York University, it wouldn’t have been hard for me. After all, a doctoral student’s days are highly structured in the United States due to the compulsory lectures and seminars. Today, however, it would be much harder to write about my experience. The reason for this is that in these 20 years, having gone from a “beginner” to an “old hand” one is granted a greater degree of freedom but must engage in more discussions regarding perceived developments, terms of employment contracts, higher education policy and the like. These confidential discussions obviously cannot be included in such reports.

I lived on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), close to a lake. The campus was reminiscent of a golf course with its lawns and lakes. SIUE markets itself as one of the safest universities in the United States and hence the SIUE Police Department is well staffed. The SIUE Police Department should be taken seriously: student apartments are searched without advance warning and all contraband items (weapons, drugs, alcohol and of course candles due to the wooden buildings) are logged and immediately removed. Depending on the offence, students can face various penalties, right up to losing their apartment. There are also alarms situated roughly every 30 metres across the entire university campus, which immediately notify the SIUE Police if activated.

Like all US universities, SIUE has an enormous range of sporting facilities. At SIUE there is a swimming pool, climbing hall, wrestling centre, several indoor basketball courts, indoor running tracks, racquetball courts, huge gyms, tennis courts, softball and American football pitches, as well as baseball and football pitches. There is also a huge array of courses on offer. Students can participate in all sporting activities free of charge as this is covered by their tuition fees.

A very convenient bus system is also financed by tuition fees, which connects the residential and institutional buildings of the whole university and also includes Edwardsville bus station. However, I could do everything I needed to on campus by bike. Edwardsville and many other cities situated along the Mississippi have converted the old railway lines into bike paths. St Louis’ major economic importance in the mid-19th century means that it now has an extensive network of bike paths.

On the subject of tuition fees: a student at SIUE must pay at least $10,000 per semester and housing costs on top of that. Therefore, many students have to work on the side to pay for their daily living expenses, just like many German students do.

This heavy financial burden may also explain students’ behaviour in lectures. Normally attendance is compulsory, but lecturers told me that even when it is not compulsory, the attendance rate in lectures is almost 100%. The fact that students don’t turn up late and that noise is kept to a minimum is very apparent to an observer. SIUE considers itself first and foremost a university committed to teaching. Unlike degree programmes I know of in Germany, many written papers count towards students’ grade, which must be submitted by students throughout the semester.

The Research Division

My place of work at the Federal Reserve Bank (Fed) of St. Louis was in a beautiful sandstone building dating from the early 20th century. As I passed through the security checkpoint of the St. Louis Fed on my first day, I received an identity badge with the word “Visitor” on it. From the second day I was already considered a “Trusted Visitor”. The St. Louis Fed has a large Research Division. Four other researchers started work on the same day as I did. Some researchers only stay for one or more days in the Division but others stay for six months or a year. There is also a partnership with Washington University in St. Louis. Experts collaborating with researchers at the St. Louis Fed would come, as well as others working on their own projects. I am a business economist and therefore I primarily focused my attention on the impact of inflation on accounting figures. The weeks were filled with seminars as the year was coming to an end and many researchers were still presenting their research papers and ideas. Research papers from researchers at other institutions were also presented.

There was much interest in Germany expressed at the university and also at the Fed. The city of Edwardsville is strongly shaped by German immigrants. Names such as Brueggemann, Bohnenstiehl, Sauer, Koester and Mainzer are not uncommon. German is taught at the local high school and at the university but demand is dwindling. A curator from Chicago visited me and reported that German had been replaced as a school subject in Chicago by Chinese or Japanese.

A number of researchers at the Fed, which is very international, were particularly interested in the factors driving Germany’s economic strength and success.