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CELEBRATE! profile: Stephanie Franz '11

Research shows how the growth of a nation’s economy harms its air quality, at least until citizens live comfortably enough to demand change. Does the same hold true for water pollution? Elon University senior Stephanie Franz examined that question, and her work is the last to be featured in a series of E-net profiles on undergraduate research presented during CELEBRATE! 2011.

Stephanie Franz '11

Under the guidance of professor Steve DeLoach in the Department of Economics and using data from the World Bank and the United Nations, Franz compared economic figures with self-reported statistics on water pollution from 72 developed and developing countries, with a goal to determine how trade liberalization affects water pollution.

Her findings raise eyebrows as they break with conventional wisdom. “With water pollution, you can’t expect it to start declining as a country develops,” Franz said in a recent interview as she shared the motivation to her work. “I have a passion for the environment, and it’s interaction with the economy is something we have to consider, especially now.”

Franz also discovered that whether a nation is “free” doesn’t have a significant effect on its water pollution, either. This is important, she added, because it means that a country does not have to be a democracy for the government to respond to demands for better water quality.

Another point of interest emerged from the research as well. Industrial production is often assumed to be more polluting than other production methods, Franz said, but she found that for water pollution, producing more industrial goods instead of agricultural goods can actually reduce pollution. “In some cases, agriculture is worse for water quality than industry,” she said.

So how much does the research matter if there is no connection between economic growth and water pollution, or levels of freedom and pollution? Her academic mentor believes it means a lot.

“While it is always more fun to find a simple, easy-to-understand result, the fact that there is little to conclude out of the data is every bit as interesting and important,” DeLoach said. “Ultimately, it makes me question some of the seminal work that others have done because I have a suspicion that there are methodological problems with those studies.”

The Illinois native and Honors Fellow started her Elon studies in the School of Communications and still co-hosts a WSOE weekly program featuring indie music. It wasn’t until she traveled abroad to China in 2009 that Franz found her passion for economics.

Where journalists report on what others discover, researchers generate the original material, Franz said. And the economy touches all aspects of life. “Economics has an interesting take on what drives human behavior,” she said. “And it can be so interdisciplinary. It’s applicable to almost everything.”

That includes the environment. Growing up outside Chicago, Franz spent a lot of time outdoors, and she continues to do so today with horseback riding. It’s no surprise that environmental questions catch her fancy.

Coupled with her work ethic, her adviser has nothing but high hopes for the future.

“I cannot say enough great things about her,” DeLoach said. “She is a skeptic and her work is always rigorous. I have never heard her utter any thoughts of doing work that is ‘good enough.’ She also has no ego. More than anything, that is why she is one of the best writers I have ever seen among economics majors at Elon.”

What’s next with Commencement less than a month away? China. Franz hopes to teach English there for a year before returning to the United States to pursue a graduate degree in economics.

“China is an interesting place to me,” she said. “It’s a fascinating country because of its disparities.”

Eric Townsend,
4/29/2011 8:40 AM