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 2023.

Ruth Schlosser ’23

Hometown: Apple Valley, CA
Major: economics; minor: mathematics

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

The economics faculty are all incredibly supportive of students. Any time I have a question about class material, career pathways, or even just something I heard about in the news, my professors are eager to sit down with me and discuss it. As far as classes go, I particularly enjoyed my “Intermediate Microeconomics” class. We learned so many ways to think mathematically about peoples’ lives and choices. Concepts from “Intermediate Micro” pop up every day, either in my other economics classes or in my daily life. 

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

Last summer I conducted independent research in economics through the Undergraduate Research Center (URC). I worked with my mentor to design a project examining whether the gender wage gap shapes the uneven allocation of household chores. It was rewarding to take theories and technical skills that I’d developed in the classroom and apply them to answering a question about the real world.

Last summer I conducted independent research in economics through the Undergraduate Research Center (URC). It was rewarding to take theories and technical skills that I’d developed in the classroom and apply them to answering a question about the real world.

What do you like most about studying economics?

I like that economics is a hard approach to soft issues. What I mean by that is economists conduct rigorous empirical research on topics that are sometimes difficult to quantify, like the family or discrimination, in order to draw useful conclusions that help us to better understand the world. Economic research is at once challenging and an opportunity to be creative. My own unique experience is an asset in the field, since the things I notice as I move through my life lead me to want to explore new and interesting questions.

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

After Oxy, I plan to work as a research assistant for a couple of years, learning skills and building experience before I return to academia to undertake a Ph.D. I am grateful for my liberal arts experience because it has rounded the way I look at the world. I am able to flexibly build connections between topics, as well as think critically about the stories that economists draw out from their research.

Andrez Parra ’23

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Majors: economics, history

What was your motivation to major in economics?

My motivation to major in economics really came through my exposure to the field in my first-year seminar taught by Professors Lopez and Wandschneider. I had little to no knowledge of economics prior to this and was intrigued by the class description that mentioned how economics could address social issues around race, gender, immigration, and more. After taking this course, I realized how powerful economics could be in advocating for social change and justice. I also left the class with immense curiosity about the math and theory used in economics. I knew I would have to take more economics classes to satisfy this curiosity. I decided to major in economics after realizing how my first major, history, could intertwine with my interests in economics. I realized this in my intermediate macroeconomic theory course, which exposed me to macroeconomic research papers that tackled big questions of history such as, why do some societies prosper more than others? How can we promote economic growth at home and abroad? And how can we reduce the suffering caused by economic downturns? Understanding these and similar questions continues to drive me to study economics.

After taking [this first-year seminar], I realized how powerful economics could be in advocating for social change and justice.

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

The relationships I have fostered with econ professors has been a large part of my success at Occidental. It was clear early on in my Oxy career that econ professors were passionate about their field and the implications of their work. Oxy econ professors were always open to meeting with me and discussing their work regardless of whether I had taken their courses. This was often the guidance I used to choose courses such as enrolling in Professor Mora’s international economics course or Professor Jalil’s macroeconomic policy senior seminar. Meeting with econ professors has also led to great mentor relationships, such as my work as a research assistant studying the Port of Los Angeles with Professor Mora or Professor Harris’ informal mentorship in my history research projects. Even professors I have not taken classes with such as Professor Ngo have created an incredibly welcoming and supportive environment for my personal, professional, and academic growth in economics and beyond.

What do you like most about studying economics?

The aspect of studying economics I enjoy most is the diversity in subfields and interests across the major. In addition to my interests in international economics, macroeconomics, and econometrics, I feel equipped to study and discuss other areas of economics. Having conversations with students and professors interested in other subfields such as industrial organization or even finance is incredibly stimulating mentally. This intellectual curiosity is supported by the encouragement of econ professors to apply the skills and knowledge developed in the econ major across the field and across other fields. I have especially enjoyed applying my knowledge of econ to my research studying development in history.

I only really understood the importance of being comfortable in discomfort during my third year at Oxy. Talking to professors was key in building my comfort and understanding why I wanted to pursue econ.

What are your plans or ambitions post-Oxy?

Post-Oxy, I plan to pursue a career in international development and/or international trade. I plan to explore both the private and public sector aspects of these fields. I ultimately hope to apply my skills and knowledge developed at Oxy to help others achieve the same (and hopefully better) resources and comforts that I enjoy in my life. The liberal arts education I received at Oxy has been vital to me realizing the potential I have in my career aspirations. In addition to my majors in economics and history, I have taken courses in international relations, had the ability to conduct original research, worked with various professors, and been exposed to a broad spectrum of intellectual thought through friends, colleagues, and professors in other fields. This has made me confident in my ability to succeed in any career path I choose post-Oxy.

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

My biggest advice for anyone considering a major in economics is to not be intimidated by what they do not yet know or let themselves get held back by failure. I was very anxious to take upper division econ courses because of my lack of comfort with math. Despite this, I saw econ as a challenge. I saw math as a tool for me to gain a deeper understanding of economics. I saw my failures as an opportunity to reassess my strengths and weaknesses and to improve going forward. I only really understood the importance of being comfortable in discomfort during my third year at Oxy. Talking to professors was key in building my comfort and understanding why I wanted to pursue econ. Applying my other studies to econ and vice versa also greatly helped motivate me to overcome my challenges in econ. Although econ was not easy early on, I realized it was a field I wanted to study and improve at, and I encourage those interested in econ to challenge themselves as well.

Ashley Muranaka-Toolsie ’23

Hometown: San Marino, CA
Major: economics; minor: politics

What was your motivation to major in economics?

I have always been interested in social science and in high school I took a semester of economics, coincidentally taught by an Oxy alum who encouraged me to go to Oxy and pursue the social sciences because I did well in the economics class. Fast forward to Econ 102 with Professor Chiou: I was deciding whether or not to major and her advice was to challenge myself and continue what I was doing in her class—participating, going to office hours for help, and studying with my friends. Her encouraging advice to pursue the major was ultimately what motivated me to study economics because I knew I would have a great support system and academic community!

[Econ professors] truly care about our understanding of course material and take a genuine interest in students’ paths in the major and post-Oxy goals.

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

The economics faculty as a whole have been very supportive in and outside the classroom. They truly care about our understanding of course material and take a genuine interest in students’ paths in the major and post-Oxy goals. I really enjoyed “International Economics” taught by Professor Mora because the course combines my interests in local and global politics with business and economics. Professor Mora emphasized thinking about welfare and how trade policy such as tariffs affects all stakeholders involved including workers, consumers, and political ramifications. I am also excited to be taking Professor Mora’s senior seminar, “Firm Level International Trade and Investment” to expand my knowledge of the subject and take a field trip to the Port of LA!

What are your plans or ambitions post-Oxy?

I am planning to pursue a career in strategic communications consulting which is a niche within public relations. This field is rooted in the ability to write, speak, and think strategically, which is the backbone of our liberal arts education at Oxy. In strategic communications, one often has to pull from knowledge about the macroeconomy and consumer behavior as well as understanding the legal system and helping firms make decisions. Economics has taught me to think critically in the short- and long-term, and how to effectively communicate through discussion of theory, math, and intuition. At Oxy I have been able to take classes in economics, politics, religious studies, and more which I believe has given me a more nuanced view of the world. 

Because we are a large department, there are so many opportunities to put yourself out there, meet new people, and learn about your own personal interests.

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

My advice is to get involved in the department as early as possible, even if you are still undecided. This could be through going to Economics Student Association (ESA) or Women of Economics (WOE) events such as the faculty-student mixer, joining an e-board, or becoming a research assistant. Because we are a large department, there are so many opportunities to put yourself out there, meet new people, and learn about your own personal interests. I was able to do research with Professor Chiou as a sophomore which exposed me to economic concepts in industrial organization and academia. I also got involved in WOE which was a great way to meet older students and learn about their experience in the major plus their potential career paths.

Mary Hancock ’23

Hometown: Cable, WI
Majors: economics, politics

What was your motivation to major in economics?

When I enrolled at Oxy my freshman year, I fully intended on majoring solely in politics. I applied for an 8-unit first-year seminar program called ASSETS which combined ECON 101 with a CSP course (now called FYS) that examined the social applications of economics. I applied to better understand policy and politics, but I remember thinking, "There are actual solutions here!" halfway through my first semester. Where politics provided an avenue for much-needed discourse and participation, well-designed policy seemed to be largely based on economics. I declared my economics major the next semester.

Research has been one of the most rewarding academic experiences I've had at Oxy.

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

Research has been one of the most rewarding academic experiences I've had at Oxy. I worked as a research assistant last year under Professor Mora which involved a lot of data cleaning on Stata (a super awesome statistical analysis software), reading past economics research, and eventually writing a paper to submit for publication. I loved the experience of diving deep into an economics question and sorting out causes of and solutions to social problems, so I conducted an independent research project on the effects of rail expansion and disabled employment with funding from the Summer Research Program at Oxy this past summer. I am currently writing another research paper as a result of this work.

What are your plans or ambitions post-Oxy?  

I hope to attend a pre-doctoral research program in economic policy before pursuing a Ph.D. in economics. My research experience has shown me that economics research is something I want to pursue as a career, either in an academic or a policy setting. I'd also like to build quantitative skills, so I hope to take more math classes during my next career phase.

If you're like me, theory courses will be difficult. There is a lot of math, and I didn't feel like I had the math skills to succeed. But math is learnable!

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

If you're like me, theory courses will be difficult. There is a lot of math, and I didn't feel like I had the math skills to succeed. But math is learnable! Getting a theoretical economics background will allow you to see and analyze the world in new ways, setting you up for success in electives (which are so much fun!). Also, get involved in research early if it interests you in the slightest. I didn't get involved until my junior year, but I wish I had started much earlier. So, talk to professors, show interest, and pay attention to the world around you.