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When 'tired' is good


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POSTED: Monday, May 11, 2009

Kristine K. Castagnaro works hard each day with the belief that she's doing something worthwhile in helping teachers and their students learn about economics and personal finance. She pursues that mission as executive director of the Hawai'i Council on Economic Education, which she joined after running a computer consulting firm with her husband and working at various nonprofits. The former Kristine Krause, 38, is a graduate of Lancaster Central High in New York and has a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Rochester. With her husband, Russell, she has a daughter who will turn 4 next month, Zaffron. They reside in Nuuanu Valley.

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Mark Coleman: How long has the Hawai'i Council on Economic Education been around, how long have you been with it and what do you do for it?

Kristine Castagnaro: The Hawai'i Council on Economic Education was organized in 1965 as a partnership of business, labor and education folks. I've been with the council since 2003. I'm the executive director and I do everything. (Laughter) I do program development, administration, human resources, community relations, fundraising, board relations—you name it.

Q: How did you get this job? Are you an economist yourself?

A: I actually have an economics degree from the University of Rochester. But it was David McClain who hired me. At the time he was the dean of the School of Business at the University of Hawaii. We actually met when he was interviewing me for a different job—the executive director position for Hawaii Literacy. And I didn't get it. But that's perfectly fine with me because it worked out quite nicely.

Q: What does the council do?

A: We promote economic literacy, primarily through teacher training. So we give kindergarten through 12th-grade private and public school teachers the tools they need to teach students economics and personal finance.

Q: How big of a staff do you have?

A: Our entire staff is three people strong.

Q: Your group runs the annual Island Insurance Cos. Economic Challenge for high school students, plus the student stock-picking competition that we feature in the Star-Bulletin through the school year. How labor-intensive is running those contests for you and your staff?

A: We have three major teacher-training programs, three major student programs and a major fundraising event, the “;Wild Ride Stock Exchange.”; And we're also presenting this August Hawaii's first-ever personal-finance expo. So to answer your question about how intensive it is: very! (Laughter) We work very, very hard here.

Q: I noticed on your Web site that you have pretty much an all-star cast of business, government and academic leaders as directors. How often do you all get together ?

A: The board gets together every other month, and we have one or two social events a year, like holiday parties.

Q: What is your biggest challenge as executive director of the Council? Fundraising, perhaps?

A: The biggest challenge is balancing meeting the mission with fundraising. Many nonprofits face that challenge.

Q: What is your primary funding source?

A: One of our major supporters is the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs—the Office of the Securities Commissioner, specifically. And then we get corporate sponsorship, like Island Insurance Cos. and Hawaii USA Federal Credit Union.

Q: Why is it important for people to understand economics?

A: Economics gives people the tools to make smart decisions.

Q: Like about what?

A: About everything. Life decisions. Do I rent an apartment or do I buy a home? Do I go to college, or do I join the work force or do I join the military? People need a process to go through to make those decisions, and economics gives them that. ... We're working on students so that when they grow up, they'll already have these skills, and they can teach their children.

Q: When you talk about economics, are you basing it on particular school of thought, like Keynesianism or the Austrian or Chicago traditions?

A: Really what we're talking about for K through 12, especially for the lower grades, is the fundamentals of economics. So basic concepts, like opportunity costs, producers and consumers, human resources, productive resources—those kind of things.

Q: What was the last book about economics that you read?

A: ”;Freakonomics”;—I think that's the last one I read. It's my understanding that there are some questions about the conclusions that the author comes to, but it was certainly interesting reading.

Q: How long do you intend to keep working for the council?

A: I'll continue working for the Hawai'i Council on Education as long as I feel like I'm “;good tired”;—like I've worked hard doing something worthwhile.