Lilly Gaeto said that when she entered Wake Forest as a freshman, she had no idea that she was going to major in economics.
“I didn’t really know what the Federal Reserve was until I came to college,” Gaeto joked. However, she quickly fell in love with the “dismal science.” “It was one of those classes where everything clicked when I was sitting in class at 8 a.m. I just wanted to take more classes, and the rest is history.”
Dr. Jac Heckelman, who taught Gaeto’s first economics class, said that her talent was evident from the beginning.
“Lilly has excelled in both classes she took with me, asking questions which went beyond basic course material to seek greater depth of understanding,” he said. “As her initial major advisor I was happy to learn of her desire to further pursue economic analysis by expressing interest in graduate studies for which I am sure she will excel. She never shied away from the extra work or more technical mathematics background.”
When Gaeto was a sophomore, she took Intermediate Macroeconomics with Dr. Sandeep Mazumder, which initiated her interest in macroeconomic research and monetary policy. Mazumder encouraged her to join Wake Forest’s College Fed Challenge team, in which she and four of her classmates conducted research and prepared a mock Federal Open Market Committee-style presentation on the state of the economy and their monetary policy recommendations. She said that a highlight was getting to role-play Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as the only female on the team during her second year.
“We have fantastic students at Wake Forest,” Mazumder said. “But every now and then we get an exceptional student or two that really makes the faculty sit up and take notice of their talents, and Lilly is one of these. My colleagues and I in the economics department all agree that she is one of the smartest, most hard-working, mature, and dedicated students that we have. She truly represents the best of the best that Wake Forest has to offer.”
In addition, she conducted a senior research thesis, which she said taught her a lot about the realities of economic research.
“I hit a lot of roadblocks,” she said. “I realized that it’s really common in research, and that’s okay. Not having a groundbreaking discovery happens a lot.”
Gaeto’s research focused on the correlation between annual giving to churches and stock market trends. She found that denominations with high average levels of education showed a positive trend, while denominations with low average levels of education showed a negative trend. While participating in the Euro Tour summer program, she also did a research paper about why the Czech Republic did not join the Eurozone.
During her junior year, Gaeto also accompanied Heckelman to the Southern Economics Association Conference in Florida, where she gained enough confidence to return as an official discussant the following year.
However, Gaeto said that one of her most rewarding experiences in college was co-authoring an academic research paper with Mazumder about the accuracy of Federal Reserve forecasters. They looked at forecasts in speeches by members of the Board of Governors and compared it to realized economic data such as growth, unemployment and inflation and found that over time accuracy has decreased.
Gaeto will attend graduate school at Vanderbilt and hopes to become a professor.