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Former Boulderite A.K. Barnett-Hart's senior thesis has become a go-to guide to the financial crisis

For A.K. Barnett-Hart, the road from playing violin at Boulder's Fairview High to fielding questions from the government's Financial Crisis Commission didn't turn on some magical epiphany. Instead, it turned where most roads do during freshman year: on a pulsing desire to hang out.

"Everyone I knew was taking it," Barnett-Hart, 24, says of her first Harvard econ class. So she took it, too, hoping she'd maybe learn something along the way about money management. "I didn't realize that economics didn't really have anything to do with managing your money."

Until that class, Barnett-Hart — a former violin prodigy who'd deferred admission to Harvard to spend a year playing music at Juilliard — figured she'd study science like her physics-professor father. But she fell hard for econ, and by senior year found herself interning on Wall Street and pitching a senior thesis about the financial crisis. Her professors, not surprisingly, found the topic a little broad.

"They were hesitant, and probably with good reason," Barnett-Hart says. "I'm coming in in the middle of the financial crisis saying, 'I want to write about the financial crisis.'" But she did it anyway — "I saw no point in changing my topic to something I wasn't as interested in" — and used contacts from her internship to gather original data her advisers said she couldn't get.

The result was a thesis that explains the role of collaterized debt obligations — the bundling of shitty mortgages, specifically — in the financial meltdown, and does it so well that it was awarded summa cum laude and won multiple prizes at Harvard. "I started getting letters about prizes I didn't even know existed," she says. The biggest prize, however, was the attention of Michael Lewis. The author of Liar's Poker, The Blind Side and a new book about the collapse, The Big Short, Lewis contacted Barnett-Hart about the paper and wound up dropping her name in the book — calling her paper "more interesting than any single piece of Wall Street research on the subject."

She's also received calls from TARP officials and the federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. "I clearly don't know that much," she says, "but I'm willing to help them with anything I do know."

Almost a year out of school now, Barnett-Hart is working on Wall Street, but she probably won't stay long: She'd rather use her knack for finance to change it rather than live it, she says: "How will anything ever change if the people who want to change it just stay away from it?"

Written in stone: The Capitol Building advisory committee has approved the design and placement for a three-ton granite memorial honoring Colorado men and women who gave their lives in six wars: WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War and, yes, the War on Terrorism. This, despite concerns in February from state representative Paul Weissmann, who said the term was born in the George Bush presidency and might not stand the test of time.

"That's what we are calling it. It's the correct way to designate it; everybody understands it," says Tim Drago, founder of the Colorado Veterans Monument and the point person on the new memorial. "When you build these things, it's for the people who fight these wars."

If fundraising goes well, the memorial is scheduled to break ground in Lincoln Park in 2011.

Scene and herd: If you dial 1-877-DEN-ARTS, you can listen to Denver Office of Cultural Affairs interviews with some of the artists who created this city's most popular public arts pieces.

And if you want to hear about pubic arts, dial 1-800-DEN-ARTS instead, where you'll reach a sultry recording that begins, "Hey there, sexy guy. Welcome to an exciting new way to go live one-on-one with hot, horny girls waiting right now to talk to you. Lie back, baby, relax..."

 
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