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 of our majors from the Class of 2022.

Luca Van der Meer ’22

Hometown: Alameda, CA
Major: economics; minor: mathematics

What was your motivation to major in economics?

I came to Oxy knowing that I wanted to major in economics after reading Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt. I still remember lying awake in bed during winter break my senior year of highschool after thinking I’d just pick up the book as some easy evening reading—only to have my mind racing trying to find new and interesting ways to answer the questions they were presenting. This book took my understanding of economics beyond “It’s about money” and instead presented my logic-oriented brain with an analytical framework for exploring social patterns and behaviours that has only become more interesting through college.

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

Strong student-professor relationships are intrinsic to Oxy’s learning model and this is certainly true in the economics department. Countless times I have reached out to a professor I wasn’t even taking a class with to ask a general question from a podcast I listened to or something I read and been told to come to office hours, where I was locked in a half-hour conversation. Most notably, professors’ doors were open to me the second I stepped on campus. In my first semester at Oxy I took Econ 101 with Professor Wandschneider and after almost every lecture I would follow her back to her office, peppering her with questions. This relationship helped to foment my interest in macroeconomics and made me feel comfortable academically from week one.

Just like you chose to attend a liberal arts college, your professors chose to teach at one. Each and every one of them truly loves engaging with students and wants to share their academic passion with you.

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

At Oxy I have had the opportunity to do two full summers of research under the direction of Professor Jalil through our Undergraduate Research Center's Summer Research Program. Both of my projects have utilized the historical narrative approach, meaning I read newspaper articles on a period and region of interest and assigned the articles scores according to preestablished definitions to document trends in public monetary opinions. For example, In my more recent project we started creating a sample of episodes from 1945-1970 that contributed to Germany’s conservative monetary character. We did so by scoring articles on dimensions of monetary goals, inflationary sentiment and view on central bank independence. Research has been an incredibly rewarding process for me and has extended my academic environment beyond theory and into practice.

What are your plans or ambitions post-Oxy?

After Oxy, I plan on pursuing a Ph.D. in economics and am currently applying for research jobs at the Federal Reserve and other predoctoral programs. In my time at Oxy, not only have I gotten the chance to work on multiple projects, but with each I have been given a large degree of independence. My research this summer relied heavily on a couple of central definitions, and early in the project we realized one of the definitions was missing an important pattern we were seeing in the narrative. In our weekly meeting, where we usually go over my appendix entries to ensure consistency, we instead revisited the definition and rewrote it together incorporating many of my ideas. My relationships with professors give them a basis to trust me both in and out the classroom, which provides me with affirmation and the confidence to pursue academia as a profession.

Research has been an incredibly rewarding process for me and has extended my academic environment beyond theory and into practice.

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

Reach out to professors! Should you come to Oxy, just like you chose to attend a liberal arts college, your professors chose to teach at one. Each and every one of them truly loves engaging with students and wants to share their academic passion with you. Try to put your foot in the door by week one or two of classes and if you feel like you don’t know what to say just show up at office hours and either ask about their research or start listing your interests and seeing how the conversation builds based on the intersection with theirs. Also don’t be afraid of looking at classes in other departments. Economics is a framework for examining social questions, and you can learn a lot from asking a psychologist or a sociologist the same questions. Taking an interdisciplinary course load enhances your ability to think deeply about an issue so don't stray away from the wide variety of courses Oxy has to offer.

Emilio Pardi ’22

Hometown: Phoenicia, New York
Major: economics; minor: Urban & Environmental Policy

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

My experience as an economics student has been very positively influenced by the interactions I’ve had with my professors. The economics professors here at Oxy are highly skilled, extremely supportive and very passionate about their individual research areas. This makes their classes intellectually stimulating yet approachable. Oxy professors want their students to succeed, and they are more than willing to offer guidance regarding coursework, research opportunities, internships and career paths. While the economics department is quite rigorous, the professors are invested in not leaving any student behind. They are receptive to feedback, and constantly strive to make the economics major as inviting and exciting as possible.

Three standout classes I’ve taken are “Applied Econometrics” with Professor Williams, “Environmental Economics and Policy” with Professor Umanskaya, and “Economics of Sustainable Development” with Professor Wong. The first class taught me how to use various econometric approaches to analyze data and create statistical models. These skills later benefited me in my various internships and research experiences. The latter two classes illustrated the role that economics plays in creating and improving environmental policy, as well as guiding sustainable and efficient international development. By applying various economic theories, evaluating market-based environmental policies and modeling different forms of international cooperation, these classes contextualized the climate crisis and contemplated how we can better address environmental health, resource extraction, emissions reduction, poverty and growth.

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

I served as a research assistant to Professor Seva Rodnyansky in the UEP department on a project studying the evolution of California’s Central Valley demographics, “super-commuters” and regional fiscal stress. As an undergraduate researcher, I imported high-level panel/cross-sectional ACS + Census data into Stata and Excel to be merged, appended and reshaped in order to acquire descriptive, statistical, graphical analytics. This process gave me valuable experience working with large data sets often utilized when evaluating policies, analyzing/summarizing trends and executing calculations. Additionally, I conducted research and survey outreach, producing quantitative/qualitative reports and summary presentations relevant to our project and its key stakeholders. The technical and analytical skills that I developed in this position have prepared me to clean data, create coherent models and reports, and use my findings to inform critical decision-making. These skills will undoubtedly help me in my future career and economics coursework at Oxy.

While the economics department is quite rigorous, the professors are invested in not leaving any student behind. They strive to make the economics major as inviting and exciting as possible.

What do you like most about studying economics?

I like experiencing the “Aha!” moments that come with learning about how economic theory, models and analysis can be applied to understand and inform contemporary policy issues, business outcomes, and individual choices and behavior. Economics allows us to better understand the institutions, policy debates and day-to-day activities that shape our lives. Reading quantitative and qualitative research when evaluating how economic thought has evolved throughout time is fascinating to me. I’m also intrigued by the myriad connections economics has to the other areas of study I’ve explored at Oxy. And, of course, the welcoming and stimulating environment offered by the economics department shouldn't be overlooked!

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

I plan to pursue a career as an analyst with an economic consulting firm. I am very interested in using quantitative/qualitative research, statistical/econometric modeling and economic theory to anticipate/evaluate potential class-action disputes, damages, risk exposure and economic policy impacts. Oxy’s liberal arts approach has taught me to appreciate a variety of disciplines and perspectives through exposure to various areas of study. This enables me to think critically and efficiently when addressing the various issues that economic consultants face. With a strong emphasis on written and oral communication skills, as well as collaboration, my Oxy experience motivates me to work toward making the world a better place, both as an individual and a professional. Down the road, I am interested in drawing on my UEP minor and urban housing interests to potentially enter the sustainable/affordable real estate development industry. Oxy has transformed me into a much more equity-oriented person, and I am excited to see where this takes me!

My Oxy experience motivates me to work toward making the world a better place, both as an individual and a professional.

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

If you are considering the economics major, or find it hard to commit after taking the introductory-level courses, push yourself to take a higher-level elective! This is where economics, for me, became very attractive as a potential major and career path. The electives apply the core models and theory you learn in the introductory classes to real world situations and problems. Whether it be “Environmental Economics” with Professor Umanskaya, “Economics of Sustainable Development” with Professor Wong, or “International Economics” with Professor Mora, I can almost guarantee that you will find a niche topic to solidify your interest. Sometimes, the optimizations, derivations and multi-step calculations emphasized early on can be overwhelming. Remember, not every econ major goes into finance or accounting! There are countless ways that your economics background can be applied to impact the policy and business outcomes that interest you! Diversify your classes and reach out to your professors/tutors/peer groups (like the Economics Student Association) when you need clarification or solidarity. A good economist is an incessant questioner, so never be afraid to ask for help. Most importantly, make a few close friends in the major who share your drive and interests—it makes all the difference!

Eva Ma ’22

Hometown: Chino Hills, CA
Major: economics

What was your motivation to major in economics? 

I did not know what I wanted for a career or a major when I started college. I just knew that I eventually wanted to be able to make an impact on social issues, especially those related to race, gender, mental health, education and income inequality. I heard that the economics department at Oxy has a strong reputation so I enrolled in Econ 101 my first semester to explore my options. I soon got the sense that economics is a channel into everything I cared about as I saw some of its applications to the world and wrote a paper in my 101 class about the long term benefits of attending preschool. My interest in economics further evolved in Econ 102. The class focused on developing our analytical skills and dived deeper into how economists use models to explain the world. I found that the analytical and model-based approach used in econ provided me with a concrete way of thinking about social issues. I also had a lot of interest in Professor Lopez’s research. I relayed all of this to her and she strongly encouraged me to declare the major and apply for the Women of Economics e-board. I later met Professor Lehr at an economics department student-faculty mixer. He told me that we need more women studying economics at all levels to give our input on issues that we can personally relate to, such as gender inequality, abortion and taxes on feminine hygiene products. This helped me realize that economics is what I wanted to devote my career to.

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

One of the highlights of my experience at Oxy has been the relationships that I have formed with my econ professors. Professor Lopez especially has been such an excellent mentor. She was the first person to spot my potential and has helped me see it, too, with her endless encouragement and guidance. My other professors have also always been willing to help me with anything I needed, whether it was career/professional advice, help with a problem set, or even just showing their support at Women of Economics events. An experience that stands out in particular is how much support I had from my econ professors when I was applying for internships and jobs. They did mock interviews with me, read one draft after another of my application materials, and connected me with their former students who went through the same application process. Their support has been invaluable. 

One of the two standout classes that I have taken is “Game Theory” with Professor Lehr. The class changed the way that I think about the world and significantly improved my problem-solving skills. The class also had a very strong sense of community. Our entire class was once in Professor Lehr’s office hours at the same time because we were all stumped by the problem set. He was extremely helpful, and my classmates and I worked together to figure it out. “Advanced Econometrics” with Professor Williams has been my other favorite econ class. The sense of community with my classmates and with Professor Williams was also very strong, as we tackled grad-level content together.

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

I am grateful to have been able to participate in multiple economics research opportunities both at Oxy and at my internship. This past summer I was an intern at the National Economic Research Associates. My research experiences at Oxy, all of which involved working with data, greatly prepared me for my internship. My first exposure to economics research was through the Undergraduate Research Center the summer after my sophomore year. I had a summer fellowship mentored by Professor Ngo. Our first project measured economic growth in Mexico, and our second project was about the effects of outdoor learning spaces. My junior year I became a research assistant for Professor Lopez. I worked on a project related to county jails, and we are currently doing research on diversity in economics. During my junior year I also worked on an independent research project mentored by Professor Harris. I examined the wage gap between heterosexual and non-heterosexual individuals and looked for evidence of discrimination.

Economics has applications to virtually everything. Seeing its applications to topics that you are most passionate about will help bring more purpose to your studies when you feel caught up in theory and math.

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

I plan to either continue to work in economic consulting or pursue a predoctoral program at the Federal Reserve or an academic institution. Later, I hope to pursue graduate studies in economics. My education in the liberal arts has prepared me to look at the world with an eye for spotting social fluxes that run deep but also for believing that change is possible, and we need people from every academic discipline for it to happen. This has motivated me to become an economist in order to be a part of that change. The classes that I have taken outside of the Economics Department have exposed me to what issues need to be addressed and how to effectively think about them. Economics then allows me to model these issues mathematically, ask research questions about them, and use reliable research methods to seek answers. My project on the impact of sexuality on wages was inspired by a Diplomacy & World Affairs class I took. The class had very few economics concepts, but it helped me understand the need for my research and identify where to start. The topics that I hope to research in the future also draw on a lot of inspiration from my sociology and religious studies classes.

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

Don’t get intimidated by math. Math anxiety is common among economics students, but don’t forget that math can be learned, and you have an entire department of people who are more than willing to help you learn it. Similarly, don’t get intimidated by the challenging classes. They are designed to be challenging to develop your analytical skills in ways that are important in both the job market and in life. It is perfectly fine to feel like you are struggling with a concept or a problem set. There are plenty of resources. Go to professor office hours, peer tutoring, and study hours hosted by the Women of Economics and Economics Student Association. Also, form a small study group and set weekly meetings to talk through frustrations or work on problem sets together. Lastly, find out what area of economics interests you the most. Ask your professors to tell you about some of their research projects. If you are passionate about addressing gender gaps, read about what economists have done so far and talk about it with a professor who has done research in that area. Economics has applications to virtually everything. Seeing its applications to topics that you are most passionate about will help bring more purpose to your studies when you feel caught up in theory and math.

Eason Nishioka ’22

Hometown: Honolulu, HI
Major: economics; minor: Japanese Studies

What was your motivation to major in economics?

In my junior year of high school, I took Advanced Placement Economics. I found the class insightful in its approach to answering curiosity-based questions like “Why do airlines have so much pricing power?” or “Why do restaurants continuously open and close?” When I arrived at Oxy, I knew I wanted to continue my economic studies especially because I was still unsure of what I wanted to do career-wise. I was certain I wanted to be an economics major when I began to take higher-level required courses like “Intermediate Microeconomic Theory” with Professor Ngo. While the class was no walk in the park, it showed me how economics is really decision making in a vacuum and how interconnected it can be with public policy, private enterprise and consumers.

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

While all Oxy professors take a genuine interest in their students, I felt that the economics department was especially interconnected and dedicated to their students. My favorite course was by far “Managerial Economics” with Professor Studenmund. The course focused on Harvard Business School case studies and required us to practice not only public speaking and presentation skills, but our ability to form and defend logical arguments. Being the only sophomore in a class of predominantly juniors and seniors was a little intimidating, but with Professor Studenmund’s help, I was pushed beyond my comfort zone and improved my critical thinking skills. Professor Studenmund continues to be a mentor today and has helped me with internship and career placement. It’s not uncommon to see econ professors reaching out with exciting opportunities or having hour-long conversations during office hours about life, career or academic advice.

 I’ve also enjoyed the small-scale learning environments at Oxy. Not only do they allow for critical conversation, but also for deep relationships with professors and peers.

What do you like most about studying economics?

I really enjoy how economics has the ability to dispel inaccuracies we often hear and are inclined to believe. For example, in my “Labor Economics” class with Professor Harris, we discussed the effects of minimum wage laws on rates of employment. I think too often, we jump to the conclusion that an increase in the minimum wage causes job loss. We learned, however, that certain industries have the ability to absorb these costs without damaging employment rates of relatively low wage earners. Using regression analysis, we’re able to quantify certain factors and variables to better understand their effect and magnitude on large scale outcomes. That, to me, is what makes studying econ fun.

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

After Oxy, I’ll be joining the world of corporate finance in Northern California. My liberal arts education has been invaluable to me in so many regards. The best part is the interconnectivity between other disciplines and economics. Taking classes in various fields beyond the required courses allowed me to expand my problem-solving skills and piqued my interest in how connected our world is. Where else can we see the effects of using economic intuition and incentives to correct natural resource depletion? I’ve also enjoyed the small-scale learning environments at Oxy. Not only do they allow for critical conversation, but also for deep flowing relationships with professors and peers. Both factors have helped shape me and I’m thankful to have met so many great people in my college career.

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

My advice is threefold and generally applicable to any major: don’t get caught up in the grades, take courses based on your curiosity and never be afraid to ask for help. I think too often we get concerned with grades, but in reality, the learnings and stories we take away from the classes are so much more valuable. One’s focus should be on studying to learn and not studying to get a good grade. Strive to take the classes that intrigue you. The econ electives allow you to explore how versatile the field is and how we can quantify decision making with applications to policy, consumer behavior and even general curiosities. Lastly, reach for help when you need it. People at Oxy want to help, and they’re more accessible than you think.