by Amy K. Lavender

As Kim Holder walks around her classroom, she is doing something you don’t usually expect to find a teacher doing – she’s handing out raffle tickets. For the past 20 minutes, she has been giving her students instructions that require them to get out of their seats, move around the room and meet their classmates.

First, they try grouping themselves by things they have in common, then by things that make them different, and finally they have to find a person who has nothing in common with themselves. Each time the students complete a task, she gives them raffle tickets for prizes she’ll be giving out at the end of class.

“I try to make the first day interesting,” Holder said. “It helps them break the ice.”

But it’s more than that, really. It’s part of Holder’s mission to help them be successful students.

Recipe for Success

Kim Holder talking to students in class.“What I believe is that every student can learn,” Holder said. “That’s the driving force behind what I do. I know what kind of student I was, and I excelled in a very traditional environment. The complicated part was everything else: working full time while going to school and taking care of young children while going to school. So I’m very sensitive to students who have barriers to education that we don’t always see.”

Holder says she tries to make learning interesting, affordable and approachable in an effort to engage all of her students, whether they’re economics majors or English majors, whether they’re a traditional residential or a non-traditional student, whether they attend school full time or part time and whether they have few external responsibilities or many.

“The students in our classrooms – we don’t always know if they just got off work and are still trying to stay awake,” Holder explained. “We don’t know if they have an elderly family member or kids they are taking care of at home. We don’t know if they’re not buying their book because they don’t want to or because they can’t afford it. I grew up relatively poor, and when I was at UWG, I was a Pell Grant recipient and a scholarship recipient. Even with my family income, I was below the poverty line, so I know what it feels like to struggle.”

Holder is originally from South Korea. She was orphaned as an infant and soon after adopted by a family in Tennessee. Her father was a minister, her mother a K-12 teacher. The family traveled quite a bit and was never what you would consider affluent.

“For me, education opened any and every door I could imagine, and I want that for other students,” she said. “So when I think about a student in my classroom, I want to make sure that everything I give them are things that help them be successful.”

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Economist

A UWG cup, a book and three Rubik's Cubes.How does Holder ensure success? By making the abstract concepts of economics tangible … and adding a dash of fun. That desire to make economics interesting and fun to her students was the impetus for an economics music video contest that has spread to universities across the continent like wildfire.

“When I started teaching in 2010, I just wanted to do something interesting that made the students want to come to class,” Holder recalled. “I’m a huge fan of music. I grew up watching Schoolhouse Rock! and Weird Al Yankovic, and I wanted to bring that into the classroom.”

By the end of that semester, Rockonomix was born – a music video contest in which students rewrite the lyrics of popular songs to focus them on economics and make a music video to go along with their new lyrics. Soon, Rockonomix was expanded to become a nationwide contest welcoming entries from universities all over the United States.

“We’ve also taken it to high schools as well,” Holder said. “It’s been very successful, not just at West Georgia but across the nation.”

The Rockonomix contest has earned Holder the nickname “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Economist” and is just one example of how she brings a different level of engagement to her classroom. She also strives to give students a clear picture of economic principles by correlating it with things that are familiar to them.

“One of the ways we can do this in a non-traditional sense is through the use of things like social media,” she explained. “So we use a lot of social media to communicate in our class. We also use a lot of other technologies – music, movies, TV – to really make our concepts more concrete. When I teach certain economic theories and I can tie that to a specific TV show, that will help students remember it on test day.”

And the Award Goes To

Kim Holder and a studentHer approach has many sitting up and taking notice.

Since creating the Rockonomix contest, Holder has been named the 2015 Economics Educators Best in Class Teaching Award, the UWG Athletics Foundation Faculty Member of the Year, given a UWG alumni faculty award, awarded for her research by her college, Richards College of Business, and most recently she was named the National Association of Economics Educators’ Rising Star for 2016.

“We are so proud of Kim and the accomplishments she’s made in bringing these economic concepts home to this new generation of students,” said Richards College of Business Dean and Sewell Chair of Private Enterprise Dr. Faye McIntyre. “We are in the business of transforming lives through education, engagement and experiences, and Kim’s efforts are a perfect example of how we do that every day.”

But Holder isn’t just a dynamo in the classroom. She’s also the director for UWG’s Center for Economic Education (CEE), which is affiliated with the National Council on Economics and the Federal Reserve. The center’s goal is to reach out to K-12 teachers, students and the community to increase their understanding of and comfort level with economics and personal finance.

“A lot of people who experience economics in K-12 are often education specialists but not economics specialists,” Holder said. “So we want to help give them the tools they need to successfully teach their students.”

Those tools include teacher workshops for both educators and the general public. Teacher workshops focus on training, pedagogy and applied concepts. Workshops for the public focus on personal finance and understanding the basic principles that drive our economy. Holder leads these workshops locally, but she’s also become quite the jet setter as she has spread the word to other educators.

“I travel a lot for the CEE as well as for my own academic research,” Holder said, “and I present a lot at conferences across the nation. This summer I spoke at Little Rock for the Arkansas Council on Economic Education and in Mississippi for Mississippi Council. These councils bring me in to speak and do teacher training. In Mississippi, I was sharing digital technologies that are available and that I use in my classroom.”

Get Involved, Get Engaged

Kim Holder and a studentHolder says she’s dedicated to sharing her style and the many options available for economics teachers because, at the end of the day, it’s about helping students be the best they can be.

“I use a lot of interactivity,” she said. “I try to get students up and involved and moving, connecting with each other. I feel like it’s really important, particularly for students who don’t have a traditional support system at home to build their own support system at the university.”

And if there’s anything else her students learn, Holder says she wants them to know about the multitude of opportunities available to them.

“I feel that West Georgia is a place where students can be very successful,” Holder said. “There are so many resources for them on campus, and if there’s something missing they can always create it. Everybody wants to find their own unique space in the world and contribute something, and there are so many ways students can be involved at UWG. I think that’s what makes West Georgia really special and unique: that you can really be yourself, you can find yourself, and you can make a difference.”

Posted on August 16, 2016