Spring 2015 Econ eNews
Rachel Grant, Tyler Quatraro and Robert Pitre selected for Grace Miller and H.T. Koplin Scholarships
Three exemplary students were awarded scholarships by the Economics Department this month.
Rachel Grant and Tyler Quatraro were awarded the Grace Miller Economics Scholarship of $2,500 over three terms, beginning in Winter 2015, and Robert Pitre received the first-ever H.T. Koplin Memorial Scholarship for Economics of $3,000 for the academic year 2014-2015.
Keep watching the Economics website for more information about future awards of the Koplin and Grace Miller Scholarships for the 2015-2016 academic year.
Rachel Grant is a junior in the Clark Honors College, double-majoring in Economics and Japanese. She currently works for the residence halls as second-year Housing Service Center Specialist. Outside of school, she is an active member of her sorority, the Women in Business club, as well as a volunteer for the Lane County Juvenile Justice Center as a math tutor. This spring term, she will be interning in Tokyo, Japan, for the Japanese Representative Office of Oregon.
Tyler Quatraro is a sophomore at the University of Oregon planning to graduate with a double major in Business and Economics. He hopes to travel and teach English abroad for a few years after he graduates and then go to graduate school for economics or law. “Being awarded this scholarship is a huge honor and I can’t emphasize how grateful I am for the support it provides and symbolizes.”
Robert Pitre is a senior at the University of Oregon, and is originally from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He explored a few different career paths before deciding to move to Oregon and pursue a bachelor’s degree. This spring he will be graduating with a Bachelors of Science in Economics with a minor in Political Science and will be marrying his fiancée, Kelly. He plans to take a year off before applying to graduate school in pursuit of a Masters in Public Administration.
About the Scholarships
The Department of Economics awards these scholarships to students majoring in economics who are Oregon residents. The Grace Miller Scholarship was created in honor of donor Grace Miller, who earned her MA in Business Administration at the UO and went on to teach business and economics at South Eugene High School. This scholarship is offered to encourage and support an academically strong UO undergraduate economics major who is an Oregon resident and who has demonstrated an interest in teaching. Preference is given to women, and the scholarship is awarded on a quarterly basis depending on available funds.
The H.T. Koplin Memorial Scholarship is a new scholarship for the UO Department of Economics, and is awarded to an economics major demonstrating a combination of financial need and high academic performance in economics courses. The Koplin Memorial Scholarship is awarded once per year.
The Department of Economics would like to thank our generous donors for providing these opportunities for our outstanding students to pursue their goals for a college education.
Innovative instructors, including Professor Chris Ellis, design classroom activities to better illustrate important principles.
Professor Chris Ellis gets the students’ attention. “Up for bid now is one Revolutionary’s Kit,” he calls out, pulling an assortment of squirt guns and a Guy Fawkes mask from a grocery sack and passing them around the classroom. “This is a second-price, sealed-bid auction,” he says. “Start working on your bidding strategy with your group.”
Each group receives 100 virtual credits to bid. Students gather for discussion, and after a few minutes, a flurry of papers are shuffled to the front of the room. Ellis reads the bids aloud, and determines the winner.
He asks the winning group to explain the reasoning behind their bidding strategy, which leads into a classroom discussion about the central characteristic behind second-price, or Vickrey, auctions—the tendency for the bidder to bid the true valuation for the item.
Classroom demonstrations such as these are commonplace in Ellis’ Games People Play (EC 327) course, where students learn how to logically think through strategic situations in which the outcome of their choices are dependent on their actions and the actions of other participants. These types of circumstances arise frequently in situations related to politics, war, and business negotiations.
In this class session, Ellis invites the student teams to bid on a selection of gag gifts (and even a five-dollar bill) as a way of illustrating the different strategies buyers and sellers may use to gain an advantage in a bidding contest.
Professor Ellis finds these activities help his students grasp these economics concepts more effectively. “They’re entertaining and interactive, so it keeps them engaged and learning,” he says. “It allows students to explore these ideas in their own way rather than having them fed to them in a lecture format.
“Plus, it’s always a lot of fun.”
A former UO grad student melds multiple disciplines to blaze trails in an emerging field.
Thomas Miller prides himself on being multilingual—in the languages of business and technology. As a graduate student pursuing an MBA at the University of Oregon years ago, he quickly realized that many of the disciplines he was interested in didn’t speak the same languages. “I was not satisfied…a lot of people in business didn’t understand economics that well,” he recalls.
So he decided to branch out, and earned a second M.S. in economics. He also pursued a PhD in psychology at the University of Minnesota and another Master’s in statistics, and launched his career working in a variety of technology and transportation companies. Along the way, he developed programming and a host of other IT skills.
And the strategy paid off. “Being multi-disciplinary—‘multilingual,’ if you will—is an advantage when it comes to getting things done and working in teams,” Miller says.
Today, he has blended these varied interests to become a leader in an emerging field. Miller teaches a variety of graduate courses in predictive analytics, a master’s program offered by Northwestern University.
Originally envisioned as a program with 150-200 students, the MS in Predictive Analytics has grown to be the largest graduate program at Northwestern, and the largest graduate program of its kind in the world.
Data analytics, or data science, as many have dubbed it, merges the disciplines of programming, econometrics, statistics, and even consumer behavior when used in marketing and other fields.
“We are living in a data-driven, data-intensive world. These data are of interest to organizations of all kinds, and the analysis of these data is the job of predictive analytics. It’s a high growth area.”
Miller sees data science continuing to expand, and believes that students with a firm grounding in economics can be very successful in this emerging field. “A lot of our students have economics degrees as undergraduates,” he says. “It’s a good signal that you’ll do well. Working with data, building models, testing those models…. these are key skills across many occupations.”
Miller continued: “While I was at UO, I first learned about discrete choice models, which have been very important to me in subsequent teaching and consulting.”
His advice to economics undergrads interested in data science? “Get a good background in statistics and econometrics,” he says. “But don’t restrict yourself to the languages and systems that are used in your economics courses. Look to the industry in general.”
Miller believes programming and IT experience is especially valuable to students who are looking to boost their resumes. “Which [programming] languages are being used today? Take a look at R and Python. Take on independent study projects that give you a chance to try things out using open source tools and systems. You do not need to major in computer science to do these things.”
His other advice: “It’s a good thing to have a learning attitude. As soon as you think you know enough, you start falling behind.”
Recent books by Thomas W. Miller
Miller, T. W. (2015). Web and Network Data Science: Modeling Techniques in Predictive Analytics. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson FT Press. [ISBN-13: 978-0-13-388644-3]
Miller, T. W. (in press). Marketing Data Science: Modeling Techniques in Predictive Analytics with Python and R. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson FT Press. [ISBN-13: 978-0-13-388655-9] We expect this to be available in May.
Recent Econ grad Emily White travels to India to conduct research on poverty and cognition.
The sugar cane fields of Tamil Nadu in Southern India might be a world away from the UO campus in Eugene, but 2013 Economics graduate Emily White is getting plenty of opportunities to apply what she learned in class. “I think I’ve used information from nearly all of my 300- and 400-level econ courses in this job so far, and I expect to draw on more of that information as the job continues,” she says.
Emily works as a research associate for ideas42, an organization that, according to its website, “uses behavioral economics to do social good.” She’s currently conducting research to study the impact of poverty on cognition, specifically how poverty affects decision making, and how impaired cognition might affect things like accident rates and preventative healthcare uptake.
Emily’s home base is the city of Chennai, but her research happens in the small farming villages about four hours away. “We’re surveying rural sugarcane farmers who get paid for their crop just once per year to see whether they make different types of decisions before versus after they receive the harvest payment,” Emily says.
The professors coordinating the research are in the US and her research manager is in a different region of India, so she’s learned a lot about how to plan and organize a research project on her own, which has been challenging at times. “I work best when I have someone to talk to and bounce ideas off of, so I’ve had to be a bit more creative with that,” she says.
Although she has some experience in interviewing subjects for research projects, she’s never used an interpreter before. “It’s been a new challenge to learn the rhythm of an interview through a third party and to figure out how to dig in on important questions while respecting different cultural norms.”
But her favorite part so far? The fieldwork. “I’ve spent a lot of time speaking with farmers, healthcare workers, mill directors, and village officials about the daily life and typical challenges,” Emily says.
Emily was offered this position as a result of applying for research jobs through J-PAL, a common application administered by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab that connects researchers with projects conducted by J-PAL and other organizations around the globe to combat poverty by learning its root causes. “I’ve wanted to work for J-PAL or a similar organization since I first learned that it existed,” she says. “There is no way I’d have this job if I hadn’t majored in econ.”
Emily advises other students who are interested in following a similar path to look for ways to get real-world research experience on top of their class work. “One thing I’d note is that if someone is interested in landing one of these roles with just a bachelor’s degree, they will definitely need to do some research projects, like the econ department’s honors program, to be a competitive candidate,” she says. “If you aren’t able to commit to the honors program, try getting a research associate/assistant role.”
The Tamil Nadu project is expected to take from nine to twelve months, and she’s nearly at the halfway point. After that, she’ll deciding whether she’ll continue on to graduate school, either for her master’s or PhD, in the hopes of continuing to do this kind of research.
In the meantime, she says she’s getting the most from her time in India. She’s enjoyed visiting the various villages, hearing new music, meeting new friends, and “trying to learn the frankly impossible rules of cricket.”
A former economics grad brings Oregon’s greenery—and a Duck’s sense of adventure—to China
Barely two years out of college, Charlie Campbell has already had experiences most soon-to-be-graduates only dream about: Forming a Silicon Valley startup with more than $1 million in sales volume its first year. Helping to found a business with international connections. A chance to be a market leader in not just one, but two, different industries.
Charlie and his partner founded Buckete—what many consider to be the first consumer-to-business (C2B) marketplace in the world, helping consumers join forces to negotiate better prices on everything from pianos to strollers to electronics.
Although the start-up was successful, the two partners parted ways after about a year. But Charlie’s thirst for forging new paths wasn’t quenched. “Ducks are taught to walk to their own beat,” he says. “Silicon Valley taught me invaluable lessons in negotiations, networking, and navigating team issues.”
In December 2013, Charlie joined Haining Oregon Nursery Technologies Co. Ltd. (HONT) as the firm’s general manager. The company exports premium quality trees from Oregon to China. In its first year, HONT exported 557,000 trees from Oregon, transplanting them in a massive commercial nursery in Haining, China. Charlie manages everything from day-to-day operations to forming strategic relationships. Beginning with a team of just four people in February, he expanded the team to more than 150 by March and accomplished the record-breaking achievement of potting all 557,000 trees in six weeks.
In 2015, HONT plans to expand its facility to upwards of 150 acres of land for planting trees, in addition to their current 50 acre site. The company currently has between 40-180 field laborers depending on the season.
Charlie credits his knowledge of Mandarin and completing a six-month internship in China for landing his current gig. “My real interview came back in 2011 when John Ramig, founder and President of Global Trade Advisors (GTA), offered me an internship in China. Bruce Blonigen and William Harbaugh played a huge role in allowing me to follow my dreams. They supported me taking a term off and helped me graduate early to pursue the startup company,” he says.
Also, he believes that his economics training has given him a big advantage. “The Econ department taught me how to pragmatically look at and break down problems. Econometrics also turned out to be an invaluable tool. Data is all around us and easy to get—the challenge is pulling meaningful results from the data,” he says.
“I’d also say being courageous and in some cases fearless is irreplaceable,” Charlie continues. “People management is always going to be tough—multiply this by managing in a second language and being 24 years old in a culture that highly respects experience and age… it can be challenging.”
He encourages students like him to figure out who they want to be. “If you approach every opportunity with a fanatical, 150% attitude, the right opportunities will find you. The only way to build a reputation is through putting out amazing work.”
Charlie is proud of the work HONT has done to bring a little of Oregon’s scenic beauty to the Chinese landscape. “My hope is 20 years from now, when I come back to China, I’ll see Oregon trees growing. Then I’ll know our team and company were successful.”
An honors paper by two Economics undergrads is published in UO research journal, and selected for an international conference.
Matthew Davis and Andrea Vedder didn’t expect their work to get this kind of attention. In winter and spring term of 2014, the two undergraduate Economics students partnered on a joint research project on funding for Oregon public schools for Professor Joe Stone’s EC 418/419 Honors Thesis course.
The project, “The Real Consequences of Property Tax Compression for Oregon Public Schools,” garnered the 2014 Best Group Honors Thesis Award. But Professor Stone encouraged the pair to think beyond the confines of the Economics Department and take it even further.
“Joe felt like it had legs—it was a relevant issue, it was an election year, and he thought we should consider submitting it outside the class,” Andrea says.
They began by revising the article and submitting it to the Oregon Undergraduate Research Journal. It was accepted for publication in the Fall 2014 issue. “That was a fun process, working with them going through revisions and editing.”
Then, Professor Stone received a call for papers from the Journal of Education Finance, which was preparing for its Symposium on the Financing of Education in Oxford, England. He helped the duo edit the piece again and submit it for possible presentation.
Andrea and Matt were stunned when it was selected for the December 2014 conference. The Economics Department assisted Matt with travel expenses so that he could present the paper in person.
“It was an amazing experience to present research alongside so many impressive individuals who were distinguished in their field. Everyone else at the conference had a doctorate, so I felt intimidated…. but proud to have been among those selected,“ Matt says. “The highlight for me was to visit the university itself. There is so much history, and to be there presenting on our work made me feel that we had truly accomplished something.”
Matt currently works as Director of Civic Engagement at the League of Conservation Voters. He found the experience of presenting at an international conference very interesting, and changed his view of research. “I learned that you can tackle real-life problems in new ways and really contribute to changing the world around us.”
As an aspiring features writer and journalist, Andrea also found a few new interests that have shaped her final terms at the UO. “One of the things that I discovered during my research was the need for data visualization…. how to take something that’s very complex and present it in a way that’s engaging. So I’ve since taken courses in html programming and digital arts classes.”
Andrea and Matt are waiting to hear whether their work will be selected for publication by the Journal of Education Finance. For now, they’re grateful for the added experience they gleaned from taking on the honors thesis project. “
Professor Stone taught me a lot about new approaches to econometrics and STATA,” Matt says. “More than anything though, he made us believe that our paper would be a success, even when we had our doubts.”
Honors Projects 2015
The list of honors projects for 2015 is already coming together. Some of the projects that students are beginning work on this year include:
- Bryan Domogalla, Nicole Korkos, Josh Sherman, Joe Zhu. What factors influence land density for single-family residences in Oregon? Community partners: Oregon Economic Development Commission
- Winston Hovekamp, Megan McGowen, Ryan Sherrard. Do urban growth boundaries influence the economic vitality of Oregon cities? Community partners: Oregon Economic Development Commission
- John Bird, Austin Lewis, Pedro Rivera. How can parking zones and fees in UO’s West University neighborhood be improved? Community partner: Office of Parking, City of Eugene
- Chris Deal, Mad Dodier, Jing Li, Chong Zhao. What are the costs and benefits of a teacher’s classroom experience. Community partner: Oregon Department of Education
- Jack Bischman, Rimma Gurevich, Ben Noah, Haley Rivet. Achievement Gaps: Why can’t boys graduate? Community Partner: Oregon Department of Education
- Kevin Frazier. What are the factors that affect gaps in achievement outcomes for Oregon students? Community Partner: Oregon Department of Education
Fifteen students tour Boeing, Amazon, and the Seattle Federal Reserve on a department-funded trip.
On March 5–6, 15 members of the UO Econ Club set off on a trip to Seattle for an annual trip to see some of the top employers on the West Coast and learn a little more about the nation’s monetary system.
The students drove in two eight-passenger vans to Seattle on a Thursday afternoon, and stayed overnight in a local hotel. The next morning, they began their visit at the Seattle Federal Reserve, located in Renton.
Kimberly Teoh is the chair of events and fundraising for the UO Econ Club and helped to organize the trip. She was amazed by the level of security required to enter the Federal Reserve facility. “It was a little bit intimidating. We couldn’t even put our hands in our pockets when entering the cash processing center,” she says.
The students were able to see how the currency and checks were processed in the facility, and were taken to see huge rooms full of cash. As a student currently taking the EC 480 International Finance course, Kimberly found the information they learned on the tour was very relevant to the topics covered in class.
After the Fed visit, the students then drove to Amazon to visit the main campus. They learned about the steps to securing an internship at Amazon from a company recruiter. They also got a sneak peak into Amazon’s corporate culture, such as their practice of avoiding slide presentations during meetings, preferring instead to start off with each participant reading silently from a memo or whitepaper. On the fun side, “A lot of employees bring their dogs to work,” Kimberly says. “They even had dog treats at the front desk.”
The last stop of the afternoon was the Boeing plant in Everett, where the group was able to view various 777 and 787 Dreamliner aircraft in the process of assembly. The hangar was massive—with huge cranes similar to those you’d see construction site housed inside. “It’s the biggest building by volume in the world,” Kimberly says.
This annual Economics Club trip is made possible by donations to the Department of Economics from alumni and other supporters. You can support the department by donating using our online form.