Recent Graduates

Meet some of our past economics 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.

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.

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.

 

Siyanna Ahmadu ’18, Washington D.C.

What was your motivation to major in economics?

One of the reasons why I chose economics is because I was interested in exploring the interplay between incentives and prices, as well as investments and trade. Given my own multicultural background, with lineages in Germany and Sierra Leone, I wanted learn more about key economic phenomena that can determine a country’s stability and prosperity.

Can you describe your working relationships with econ professors?

The econ professors at Oxy are honestly at the heart of what makes this major so worthwhile. They are so kind, approachable and eager to share their expertise. A class that has definitely stood out to me the most is my current 300-level econ course “Firm-level International Trade and Investment." For our final project, each student is given the opportunity to select an industry. I chose the cocoa industry because it covers key development issues of interest to me such as trade between West Africa, Europe and the U.S.; the impact of agribusiness on child labor in developing countries; and the role of the United Nations in sustainable development.

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

Yes, this semester I was given the opportunity to conduct research and create a literature review for Professor Ashenmiller regarding the effects that outdoor experiential learning can have on a child’s social and cognitive development.

What do you like most about studying economics?

I really enjoy the wide range of subject matter within the economics major. For example, I am currently enrolled in “Economics of Gender," “Firm-level International Trade and Investment" and “Economic Development." Each course enables me to look at various issues through the lens of economics.

What are your ambitions post-Oxy?

Post-Oxy, I aim to launch my career in the tech industry for an international company that values my diverse cultural heritage and my language skills in English and German.

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

Yes! I would highly recommend taking advantage of all the resources the economics department has to offer. With an economics major you can study abroad, participate in the UN Program and use the Bennett W. Schwartz Grant (granted by the economics department) to fund internships, independent studies, conferences and more!

Ieva Marcinkeviciute ’18, Gurnee, IL

What was your motivation to major in economics?

I had been exposed to introductory economic theory in my AP Microeconomics and Macroeconomics courses in high school. I didn’t have a good grasp on what a career in economics looked like and, therefore, I admit that I didn’t initially intend on declaring the major. During my first semester at Oxy, however, I fell in love with this way of thinking about the world when I participated in the California Environment Semester, a first-year cultural studies program in which I conducted biology, geology and economics-related fieldwork with my professors and peers in Yosemite, Death Valley and Point Lobos. Throughout my time at Oxy, I’ve witnessed each of my economics professors continuously use their expertise to bring about meaningful change for the L.A. community, country and world. I hope to do the same someday!

Can you describe your working relationships with econ professors?

I can honestly say that the greatest part of my Oxy experience has been getting to know my professors and having had the opportunity to learn about their passions. It is the countless hours that I have spent in each of their offices that have truly distinguished my time at Oxy from an experience I would have had at a larger university. In terms of classes, I really enjoyed Economic Development and International Economics, but there also wasn’t a single economics course that I regretted taking. I only wish that I could have taken a few more electives before graduating!

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

This semester I’ve had the unique opportunity to conduct my own independent research project as part of the Senior Research Seminar. While it has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging projects that I’ve undertaken in my undergraduate career, I firmly believe that the empirical research, statistical software and economics writing skills that I’ve developed while investigating the “trade-migration nexus" will be invaluable assets in the future. I’ve also learned about each of my peers’ interests in discussing their research projects.

What do you like most about studying economics?

I most enjoy the everyday connections and applications of what I’m learning. When I read news headlines about Brexit negotiations or newly imposed tariffs, I always look forward to discussing the economic implications underpinning these current events in my classes. Throughout the years, I’ve taken such a wide range of economics electives that have been offered by the department, each touching on different dimensions of the field. I think that this exposure has substantially contributed to my overall ability to engage in more nuanced conversations about the world, which is crucial in any career that one may choose to pursue.

What are your ambitions post-Oxy?

I think that the beauty of an economics degree, and an Oxy degree in general, is that here we develop skills and ways of thinking about the world that are applicable across so many different fields. In July, I will begin working for a medical software company. While this isn’t what I envisioned “a career in economics" looking like, I will definitely draw upon both the quantitative and qualitative skills that my professors have taught me on a daily basis. In the more distant future, I could see myself pursuing a graduate degree, further delving into some of my intellectual curiosities: economic development, international trade and macroeconomics.

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

I think the best advice that I ever received was: don’t be afraid to struggle and step outside of your comfort zone, but also ask for help when you need it. Some of the most difficult classes that I’ve taken at Oxy (and in this department) have also been the courses that I now look back on and really appreciate. I would also strongly recommend making use of all of the wonderful resources that students have here at Oxy: apply to the Blyth Fund or the Occidental Consulting Group, ask your professors about research opportunities, take the Senior Research Seminar, go to office hours and study with your peers as much as you can. Not only does the economics department stand out with respect to phenomenal professors, but I’ve also learned so much from my fellow econ majors throughout the years. Good luck!

Andrea Tuemmler ’18, Orinda, CA

What was your motivation to major in economics?

I became interested in economics when I took a 101 class for my DWA (Diplomacy and World Affairs) major. I loved how concrete econ was, and how it gives us tools to answer policy questions that political theory cannot always solve on its own. I find that the two majors complement one another well, and having a quantitative background to supplement and support how I interact with policy-making has been really helpful in allowing me to approach problems and research questions in both majors. I love how practical econ is at approaching theory, especially in comparison to many other social sciences.

Can you describe your working relationships with econ professors?

I've had really wonderful experiences with a lot of the econ faculty. Professor Jalil inspired me to pursue econ in the first place during Econ 101, and he's been really helpful in advising me throughout the major. I also worked for Professor Chiou as a research assistant and grader, and she has been great at pushing me in a more professional sense as well as academically. After three semesters of classes with Professor Mora, I also feel very supported by him not just in econ but also through office-hour discussions about international policy. Most recently, in my honors research seminar, both Professor Lehr and Professor Wandschneider did so much to help me with my project outside of class/office hours. The project itself has taught me so much about approaching econometric problems and doing econ work independently.

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

I worked as a research assistant for Professor Chiou, helping collect data on internet search traffic. I've also been pursuing my own project this semester for the honors research seminar. I'm looking at the relationship between economic growth and democracy, arguing that it is inequality, rather than pure economic growth, that drives countries towards better governance. I find that econ has been helpful in other research endeavors as well. I spent last summer in Colombia doing research on the peace process with the FARC for my DWA thesis, and I found that the major source of conflict within the recent peace accord is whether neoliberal or redistributive economic policies should be implemented, especially in rural areas; essentially, how can economics solve the root causes of conflict. I was better able to understand these dynamics because of classes such as “International Economics" and “Economic Development."

What are your ambitions post-Oxy?

Next year I will be pursuing a master’s in international relations at the London School of Economics. After that, I hope to work in international policy and foreign affairs, ideally with an emphasis on conflict- and post-conflict reconstruction.

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

Take advantage of how small Oxy is and get to know the faculty! They will support you if you reach out and make an effort to create a relationship. Also, get through the basic econ requirements as quickly as possible so you're more qualified to do research and take higher-level electives as soon as possible, since those are some of the most rewarding parts of the major!

Yiyun (Eva) Wang ’18, Shanghai, China

What was your motivation to major in economics?

I started studying economics with some vague idea that it is about recession, currency and prices. But surprisingly, as I took more classes, economics turned out to be more than that. It analyzes all sorts of human and organizational behavior, from micro to macro level.

Can you describe your working relationships with econ professors?

A privilege that econ students have is that our professors take teaching extremely seriously. I’ve worked closely with a few professors in the department, and according to my own experience and observations, they really put a lot of thought in refining their ways of delivering the knowledge. They work hard on their side to make things easier and smoother on our side, without lowering the standard they hope for us to achieve. This emphasis on teaching makes the department stand out from others.

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

I did two economics research projects through the Undergraduate Research Center in my sophomore and junior year with Professor Ngo and Professor Lehr, and an honors thesis my senior year. I examined efficiency level of Ghanaian health facilities, studied smoking behavior, and examined relationship between crime and guns. My growth along the way was tremendous. Both Professor Ngo and Professor Lehr provided excellent insights and guidance, and made huge impact on my life. Those experience added a lot value for me as a researcher and job-seeker.

What do you like most about studying economics?

For me, what’s cool about economics is that it really isn’t just a study about money or efficiency. Economics uses econometrics to study all sorts of human behavior and interaction, topics ranging from sociology, psychology, politics, finance, etc. As a curious person in nature, nothing is better than offering me a tool and telling me ‘go and use this to find out what you want to know about the world.’

What are your ambitions post-Oxy?  

I will be working as a research analyst in the New York City office of NERA Economic Consulting after graduation. I am planning to pursue a Ph.D. in economics after that.

 

Economics Alumni profiles are also featured on the department’s Careers page.