She replaces outgoing director Joanne Dempsey, who is retiring after leading the not-for-profit group for 17 years.
“I’ll work to build on the successes Joanne has brought to the organization,” Berkes-Nelson said. “She should be credited for making it known throughout the state and nation.”
Econ Illinois educates K-12 teachers to help their students become economically savvy, so they consider the benefits and consequences of their decisions about spending and saving, getting a good education, and eventually obtaining a job.
“In this tough economic climate, it’s crucial to teach children and teens economic and financial literacy. We need to teach them beyond the one semester of consumer education the state requires,” Berkes-Nelson said. “Things are so different from 15 to 20 years ago when teachers taught students how to write checks and keep paper records of their bills.”
Now, many financial transactions are performed on computers with credit cards or automatic bank withdrawals, or even with smartphones. Individuals today are faced with many more financial decisions than in the past, and must be well-informed to make good decisions.
“Educating young people is one of the hardest things to do, as they tend to focus on the here and now,” Dempsey said. “Students seldom consider the long-term economic impact of their actions. We help their instructors teach them that economics touches every aspect of their lives.”
Econ Illinois uses engaged learning activities to help teachers bring economics to life in the classroom. It also offers innovative student programs, such as the Economics Poster Contest, the Economics Challenge and the Stock Market Game program, to reach students directly.
The Economics Poster Contest provides students in first- through eighth-grades the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of basic economic concepts through drawings. Winning posters become part of an annual Economics Poster Calendar.
The Economics Challenge is a competition for teams of high school students to test their knowledge of economics.
Ten top-scoring student teams from the EconChallenge ONLINE! round of testing will qualify to compete for the state championship title, and the state winners go on to national competition.
The Stock Market Game provides a hands-on opportunity for students from the fourth- through 12th-grade to learn about savings and investing Working in teams of two to five students, young people manage a simulated investment portfolio during a 10-to-15-week trading period. All stock trades placed during market hours receive real-time pricing and investments include stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
“These are successful programs that Econ Illinois makes available to effectively engage students in learning about economics, said Berkes-Nelson, who received her master’s degree from NIU’s College of Education in 1986.
When Berkes-Nelson starts her new position in July, she will bring with her a wealth of skills and experience to lead Econ Illinois, Dempsey said.
Berkes-Nelson currently serves as executive director of the Golden Apple Foundation of Rockford, a volunteer-driven organization that celebrates, inspires and recognizes excellence in education through classroom grants, educator awards, mentoring, and initiatives that engage the community in area schools.
Berkes-Nelson is a resident of Loves Park, Ill., and a native of DeKalb.
Econ Illinois is part of the NIU Division of Outreach, Engagement and Instructional Technologies.