Meet Our Majors

Economics majors are inspired to learn about a broad range of social and global issues.

Learn about the Oxy experience for some Class of 2020 majors:

Nelson Rayl ’20, Seattle, WA

What was your motivation to major in economics?

My motivation for studying economics originally was and continues to be the search for empirical truths. In my eyes, the purpose of education is to better understand the world around us. I believe that the data-driven and self-skeptic nature of economics brings us closer to a true understanding of the world. Against the backdrop of disciplines that deal in generalities and qualitative evidence, economics is a refreshing way to understand the world.

Can you talk about a standout course you’ve taken?

Behavioral Economics” was a standout class that I took with Professor Brandon Lehr. It opened my eyes to the many heuristic and cognitive biases that humans exhibit, and it offered a compelling explanation for a number of phenomena that I had observed in the world but did not have an explanation for. It is also the single class at Oxy that made me most consider and re-evaluate the way that I approach life. Once you are exposed to the ways that humans are systematically biased, you begin to question how you may be irrationally approaching issues yourself.

Have you taken part in any economics research opportunities at Oxy or elsewhere?

I have had the pleasure of researching asset price bubbles with Professor Andrew Jalil for more than a year. My research experience offered me a hands-on look at the way in which economic research is conducted, and gave me hard skills in data collection, data cleaning and econometric analysis. However, the best part of the experience was building a relationship with and learning from an economist who shared the same passion for our research topic and the field of economics in general.

People view economics as only pertaining to the study of money, but it also covers topics ranging from urban planning to behavioral psychology.”

What do you like most about studying economics?

The aspects of studying economics that I enjoy most are the empirically based nature of findings and the wide range of topics that economics covers. People view economics as only pertaining to the study of money, but it also covers topics ranging from urban planning to behavioral psychology. Some of the most interesting papers in economics are looking at the effects of street lamps on crime or the effect of climate change on human migration. The ability to study almost any topic through the framework of economic thinking is very compelling to me.

What are your plans or ambitions post-Oxy?

After Oxy, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in economics.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in economics?

I would advise students interested in economics to look at economics research in the sub-field that they are most interested in. If you are passionate about environmental issues, look at work from an environmental economist. If you like transportation, read the work of a transportation economist. Economics classes will teach you the basic framework and toolkit of economic thinking, but they can only get so specific in the topics they cover. When you see the way that the economics framework applies to what you are passionate about, you will be mesmerized.

Bianca Sanchez-Frayre ’20, Los Angeles, CA

What was your motivation to major in economics? 

When I was in high school and decided to attend Oxy, I did not know what I would major in because I had multiple interests. It was not until the summer before my first year that I had some exposure to economics through my participation in the Multicultural Summer Institute. It was there that I learned more about the social aspect of the discipline and not just the math portion, which I had previously associated economics with.

Can you describe your working relationships with econ professors? Were there any standout classes you’ve taken?

The economics professors at Oxy are very approachable, knowledgeable and passionate about their areas of focus. If there is class material that you do not understand, they are more than happy to help you during office hours and will make appointments with students who cannot make it to the scheduled times. They serve as mentors who share their experiences and expertise to expose students to various career pathways within economics that students may not have considered before. I enjoyed the classes “International Economics” and “Economic Development” because through these elective courses I had a chance to explore issues that are of particular interest to me.

[The economics professors] serve as mentors who share their experiences and expertise to expose students to various career pathways within economics that students may not have considered before.”

What do you like most about studying economics?

What I like most about studying economics is the ability to learn about relevant issues and developments that are in the news, such as income and wealth inequality in the United States and the humanitarian and financial crisis in countries such as Venezuela. With the tools I have learned in econometrics, I am able to quantify and measure the impact of these situations on individuals’ lives and reflect on the policy implications that can help me propose solutions to complex questions.

What are your plans or ambitions post-Oxy?

I plan to work in the financial services industry as an investments analyst. I am curious about learning how to build and manage portfolios of clients that set up foundations and endowments to support the most pressing needs of communities. In the future, I see myself going to graduate school to earn a master’s degree.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in economics?

One piece of advice that I would like to share is: don’t get discouraged by difficult classes that are required for the major! It is important to not only recognize when you need help but also to reach out to professors, peer advisors and fellow classmates. The more you take advantage of these resources, the more you will learn and get out of the courses. Then you will have more time to take electives that are especially interesting to you.

Xiangyue (Nicole) Cao ’20, Shenzhen, China

What was your motivation to major in economics?

When I was in high school, I did not take any econ classes but I learned AP Economics through reading textbooks and found it really interesting. Since I had never systematically studied the subject, I decided to take “Econ 101” during my first semester at Oxy. At that time I wasn’t so sure I would major in econ. But I felt more interested and became more certain about majoring in it as I learned about a wide range of topics, such as consumer-producer problems, government policies and climate change, all in one intro course. The course motivated me to major in economics, since I wanted to have a more thorough understanding of these topics.

Can you describe your working relationships with econ professors? Were there any standout classes you’ve taken?

The professors in the economics department at Oxy are passionate, kind and really care about their students. I enjoyed all the courses that I have taken since the professors always explain concepts clearly and patiently. As an international student, I really liked the course “International Economics”, in which I learned more about issues such as trade wars and exchange rates that have direct impact on my life. I also enjoyed “Economics of Race and Gender,” in which I got to know more about racial and gender inequality in the U.S. labor markets, and some potential solutions that can help mitigate the problems.

Have you taken part in any economics research opportunities at Oxy or elsewhere?

Currently, I am working as a research assistant with Professor Kevin Williams, creating a database for a brand new “Advanced Econometrics” course that will be offered next year. It is amazing to read research on various topics that utilize the techniques we’ve learned in Econometrics.

[Economic] models and predictions can help us come up with possible solutions that may solve many real world problems.”

What do you like most about studying economics?

What I like the most about studying economics is that we learn a wide range of topics from different fields, and many concepts are very applicable in everyday life. Although sometimes the assumptions and models economists create do not fully reflect real situations, simplified ideas do help us better understand how things work. Additionally, models and predictions can help us come up with possible solutions that may solve many real world problems. And Econometrics helps us understand how to test assumptions, improve models and reach more reliable conclusions.

What are your plans or ambitions post-Oxy?

My experience studying the liberal arts has helped me build a strong foundation for future study since I’ve learned many theories and models, and how to test their validity. I plan to go to graduate school after Oxy to learn more analytical skills.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in economics?

The professors are really nice so always go to office hours! If you have questions regarding homework or exams, the professors are always willing to help you. If you want to know more about their research or you plan to conduct your own research, they are good resources who can give you better ideas in the topics that you are interested in.

Hannah Case ’20, Medford, OR

What was your motivation to major in economics? 

I took my first college economics course during the Multicultural Summer Institute (MSI) and became interested when I saw how economic models could be applied to immigration and labor. I saw that economics has the tools to create models and use data to ask interesting questions about the real world, which was very appealing. After that, I told Professor Mary Lopez that I planned on majoring in economics and she handed me a four-year outline with what classes I should take. Both the material and the support made me decide to major in economics.

Can you describe your working relationships with econ professors? Were there any standout classes you’ve taken?

The professors in the economics department have been a big reason that I have had such a positive experience at Oxy. Since it is such a small school, professors are accessible and take time to get to know their students. I've been able to go into professors' office hours to get help on homework, advice about possible research topics, or talk to a professor about their research. They've also been really supportive in helping me to pursue my goals, whether it's telling me about opportunities or talking through future plans.

Have you taken part in any economics research opportunities at Oxy or elsewhere?

I have worked as a research assistant for two different professors, which allowed me to see how each goes about thinking about and answering their questions. I also participated in the American Economic Association Summer Program, where I researched the relationship between college enrollment and gentrification.

I like that economics asks interesting questions and then uses data to try and answer them.”

What do you like most about studying economics?

I like that economics asks interesting questions and then uses data to try and answer them. Economics encompasses aspects of many different fields, such as psychology, math, computer science and sociology. That makes it a very versatile field to study with lots of applications and a wide range of research questions.

What are your plans or ambitions post-Oxy? How has the liberal arts approach helped to shape those future ambitions?

I plan on spending two years working as a research assistant at the Federal Reserve or attending a predoctoral program. After that, I intend to pursue a Ph.D. in economics. Going to a liberal arts college allowed me to explore other disciplines and connect what I was learning in other classes to economics. That showed me how history, politics and psychology are all related to economics, and gave me a broader sense of what economics is.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in economics?

You don't have to be interested in finance or monetary policy to study economics. Studying economics gives you valuable tools to do many other things.