Economics seniors persist in developing theses during remote learning

Twenty seniors adapted to changing circumstances with the support and mentorship of economics faculty members.

For economics majors, a substantial component of senior year involves conducting individual research and supporting their findings through economic reasoning, culminating in original theses.

Female student on videoconference talking This academic year, 20 students applied their coursework and skills to author papers under the mentorship of faculty members in the Department of Economics who guided them through the research and writing process. During the fall, students took the Senior Thesis Workshop led by Steve DeLoach, Martha and Spencer Love Professor and chair of the Department of Economics. They continued throughout the spring semester working one-on-one with individual faculty mentors as part of the ECO 499 Undergraduate Research experience.

When the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in Elon University’s shift to remote learning, the students and faculty adapted to the new conditions in order to meet their deadlines and milestones without sacrificing the integrity of the process.

DeLoach maintained consistent contact with the students, turning to Webex for regular check-ins and utilizing Moodle to provide a platform for anonymous peer review of papers. Students continued their weekly meetings with their mentors through email and other online communications.

“From the beginning when classes first moved online, Dr. DeLoach has communicated with all of the seniors about the deadlines in place for our thesis and motivated us to continue putting in the work despite going remote,” said Marina Thornton ’20, an economics major with minors in biology, public health and policy studies. “He also worked with Stata to help students who didn’t have the software on their computer get a version to download for free in order to continue their research.”

While diligently working to revise and complete their final papers to submit to the Department of Economics in May, several students planned to present their work at Elon’s Spring Undergraduate Research Forum (SURF). Since SURF did not happen on April 28 as planned, the economics department provided an online platform for students to share their work. Four seniors joined DeLoach’s Introduction to Econometrics class through videoconferencing to discuss their research. They talked about the motivation behind their chosen topics, literature studied, the data collection process, findings, and challenges encountered. The seniors also answered questions from faculty and students.

The student presentations were:

  • “The Effect of New School Openings on Achievement in Pre-existing Schools: Evidence from Wake County, NC”
    Jacob C. Stern ‘20 (mentor: Katy Rouse, associate professor of economics)
  • “The Impact of Health Insurance and Health Shocks on Labor Supply Decisions”
    Marina N. Thornton ‘20 (mentor: Mark Kurt, associate professor of economics)
  • “A Dam Problem: Investigating the Imact of Dams on Economic Development”
    Bailee M. Castillo ‘20 (mentor: Tonmoy Islam, assistant professor of economics)
  • “Contraceptive Access and Female Labor Supply: Evidence from Indonesia”
    Caitlin T. Wynn ‘20 (mentor: Steve DeLoach, professor of economics)

“It was a great opportunity for my econometrics students to see seniors present their theses,” DeLoach said. “Most of the students in class are junior economics majors and will be doing their own research as seniors next year. We heard a number of questions about how the seniors chose their topics, etc. I think it is powerful for students to see and hear how their peers apply the same skills and techniques we are covering in class to independent, real-world research.”

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“Presenting my thesis on WebEx was much different than presenting in person at the Eastern Economic Association Conference in February, and it was not how I expected SURF Day to be,” Thornton remarked. “However, I really appreciated Dr. DeLoach’s effort at giving students who were supposed to present the opportunity to still do so virtually. Despite the circumstances, he has still found ways to highlight our experiences and allow us to have the best ending to this long research project given the circumstances.”

Other economics presentations originally scheduled for SURF:

  • “The Effect of Concealed and Open Carry Laws on Crime Rates”
    Erin E. Byrne ’20 (mentor: Brooks Depro, assistant professor of economics)
  • “Global Perspective: The Impact of Natural Disasters on Human Trafficking Reporting”
    Colleen Judge ’20 (mentor: Casey DiRienzo, professor of economics)
  • “The Effects of Parent Incarceration on Their Child’s Potential for Success”
    Kelly Mahoney ’20 (mentor: Steven Bednar, associate professor of economics)
  • “Endogenous Capital Concentration: An Examination of Inequality and Growth”
    Francesco G. Storm ’20 (mentor: Brandon Sheridan, assistant professor of economics)
  • “The Impact of High Impact Practices on Life After Graduation”
    Danato Tempesta ’20 (mentor: Mark Kurt, associate professor of economics)