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Economics undergraduate student Yuriy Loukachev has been selected to receive a 2012 SHARE (Social Science, Humanities, and Arts Research Experience) Award for undergraduate research. Yuriy will be studying the economic theory of auctions with Professor Mike Shor in the Spring of 2012. He will receive a stipend from the Office of Undergraduate Research, and will present the results of his research at a poster exhibition to be held in the Spring of 2012.

Congratulations Yuriy!

Annually the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) holds a research paper competition. This year first-prize (making it a “Hirsh Prize Recipient”) was awarded to the paper “Calculating Return on Investment for US Department of Defense Modeling and Simulation,” authored by, among others, William E. Waite, a UConn 2nd year PhD student. The paper will be presented during the DAU Acquisition Community Symposium on Tuesday 12 April 2011, and published in April’s edition of Defense Acquisition Research Journal.

Within any complex organization there exists a need to measure and monitor the effectiveness of expenditures; that is, there is a ubiquitous necessity to monitor how well agents allocate limited resources between the many potential projects they are presented, within a specific institutional context. Such measurement is particularly challenging for institutions (or, in situations) where a market mechanism for pricing different outcomes is not available. The United States Department of Defense (US-DoD) is one such institution.

Each year, the US-DoD allocates billions of dollars to external contractors, as well as internal departments, to pursue modeling-and-simulation (M&S) projects. The benefits of these initiatives are generally not monetary – or easily convertible to a specific monetary value. Rather, the desired results are seen in measures of increased readiness of the country’s armed forces, better trained individuals, improvements in procedures or approaches that result in fewer human casualties during combat missions, and the like. Given the nature of these benefits, it is not surprising that measuring the “return-on-investment” (ROI) of a US-DoD M&S project presents government officials with a formidable challenge.

In “Calculating Return on Investment for US Department of Defense Modeling and Simulation,” the authors provide a systematic methodology to approach address this particular challenge. By utilizing a decision analysis framework based on the economic principle of utility maximization, the authors create a framework in which the US-DoD can obtain ROI-like results for ranking and evaluating projects, which can then be used in resource allocation decisions and analysis.

Margaret McCarthy, a double Honors major in Economics and Political Science (plus a minor in Human Rights) has recently been featured on the university-wide blog, UConn Today. While on a Summer internship at the US Department of State, she was quickly promoted to fill on an interim basis the country desk for Nicaragua.

She is also a stellar citizen while on campus. In 2009, she received an Oaklawn Foundation Scholarship for academic excellence, honors involvement, and leadership; she is also a member of several honors societies, including Phi Beta Kappa. This year, she was a finalist for a Marshall Scholarship. She is UConn’s administrative director for the Model United Nations. She is also a member of the Global Leadership Commission, a small group of honors students that invites global leaders on campus to speak.

More at UConn Today.

Founded in 1776 at the College of William and Mary, Phi Beta Kappa is an undergraduate honors society that celebrates excellence in the liberal arts. Its long list of distinguished members—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, President Theodore Roosevelt, etc.—just got a little longer. UConn’s Epsilon Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa recently added 8 senior Economic majors to its list of members: Joseph Antelmi, Michael Samuel Bokoff, Tyler David Gold, John R. Harry, Yixian Lai, Margaret Lynn McCarthy, Eric Burton Roy, and Alex Keller Upton. The Department of Economics congratulates this group of outstanding students.

PhD student Catalina Granda-Carvajal (advisor, prof. Zimmermann) has been invited to present last week in an international workshop in Germany, “Shadow Economy, Tax Policy and Labor Markets in International Comparison: Options for Economic Policy“. This workshop was held at the University of Potsdam, near Berlin, with the aim to demonstrate advances in the analysis of shadow economic activity and discuss how these can be used for better economic policies. Granda’s paper, entitled “The Unofficial Economy and the Business Cycle: A Test for Theories”, uses official data to establish a set of business cycle features and study how they vary across countries with the size of the unofficial sector, and compares these empirical regularities with the predictions of existing theories on macroeconomic fluctuations in economies featuring underground activities.

After having the chance to exchange ideas with young scholars and with some of the world experts in the field, Granda has been faced with the uncertainty imposed by the volcanic ash cloud in Iceland. Being stuck in Berlin has not been an easy situation; however, she reports “I have spent some time sightseeing, visiting museums and, overall, taking advantage of such a ‘forced tourism’. With plenty of history while trying to stand as a leader in arts and promoting Western values, now I understand why this city is one of the most exciting places in Europe. All in all, I cannot complain, but I cannot wait for the flight back to Storrs to share with my friends and colleagues how this experience has enriched my life and view of things.”

For the second time in recent months, the Economics Department has had one of its students, Mark Connolly, chosen for the prestigious designation of University Scholar. Mark’s selection follows on the heels of the selection in August of Philip Gorecki, a double major in economics and molecular and cell biology. Administered by the Honors Program, the highly-selective University Scholars program is designed to provide “the most academically elite students at UConn” an opportunity to advance their UConn education through this special program. A key part of the program is in-depth and focused research on a project of the student’s choice. Mark was one of only 24 students recently selected as 2010 University Scholars.

Mark is pursuing dual degrees in Accounting and Economics, and is working toward his CPA degree. He is particularly interested in auditing and in environmental economics and has thus chosen to focus his project on environmental auditing. He will be studying the role that accounting firms can and do play in environmental auditing, and the potential for auditing to provide valuable information both to the audited firms and to the public. He is particularly interested in the use of audits as third-party certification. Mark will be interning this summer with PricewaterhouseCoopers to gain a greater understanding of the audit process. His faculty advisors on this project will be Professor Lawrence Gramling in the School of Business, and Professors Kathleen Segerson and Olivier Morand, both in Economics.

One advantage of the Scholars’ program is the flexibility it offers students in designing their plans of study. Mark has structured his plan of study and remaining coursework to give him the background necessary for his project. In the course of doing this, he will also be preparing himself for his next goal, graduate study in environmental economics. One day he hopes to be a research professor bridging the gap between industry and environmental protection.

Joseph Antelmi, an Honors student majoring in Economics, is the 2009 student recipient of the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Public Engagement. Provost Peter Nicholls announced the winners of the awards at a reception on December 9.

A resident of Suffield, Joe is active in a wide variety of outreach and engagement. He is on the board of directors of the Hartford non-profit End Hunger CT!, and has been involved with numerous public-interest organizations both on and off campus. The son of Italian immigrants, Joe is especially interested in immigration issues, and worked as a research assistant for History Professor Mark Overmeyer-Velasquez in creating an Honors course on migrant workers in Connecticut.

Joe has received a number of other University awards, including the Spirer/Drucker Humanitarian Award and the Audrey Beck scholarship, the latter given by the Economics Department. He was also one 14 students chosen for the 2009 UConn Leadership Legacy Experience, an endowed program that identifies and mentors top student leaders on campus. (Another Economics major, Phil Gorecki, is also in the 2009 Legacy cohort, and junior major Rafael Perez-Segura has been chosen for the 2010 cohort.)

Joe is carrying a 3.9 grade-point average, and was a University nominee for the Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, and Truman scholarships. Next semester he will be studying abroad in Greece. And in what little spare time he has, he fronts a rock group called Exit 47.

Each year the Department of Economics attracts a large number of outstanding students with diverse talents and interests. Among the current crop is Philip Gorecki, one of a handful of UConn students selected each year as University Scholars. Students in the Scholars Program are encouraged to tailor a plan of study that meets their personal interests and career goals. Frequently the plans involve more than one field of study–Phil’s is an excellent example, and quite a unique one at that.

In addition to his B.A. in Economics, Gorecki will graduate with a B.S. in Molecular and Cell Biology. This might seem like just an odd mix of interests, but the two majors offer the ideal background and training for his University Scholars research project, titled “Microarray Biosignatures of Disease: Their Assessment and Economic Impact.”

Like his curriculum, Phil’s study has two major components. The first phase will examine the development of early diagnostic tools utilizing Grating Coupled Surface Plasmon Resonance Imaging (GCSPRI) to determine the molecular and cellular biosignatures associated with agricultural disease. [And you thought only economists used complex terms.]

After exploring these new methods for early detection of disease among farm animals, Phase 2 of the study will estimate the economic value of the new diagnostic tools, using models based on the costs of the 1997 outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in Taiwan and the 2001 outbreak in the United Kingdom.

We wish Phil all the best with his study, and until the profession launches a new journal in bioeconomics, we look forward to seeing Phil’s work in both the MCB journals and the economics journals.

From CLAS in the news:

Michelle Prairie, a Presidential Scholar from Vernon, Conn., with a perfect 4.0 grade average, will spend the next two years in the United Kingdom studying for two master’s degrees in development economics.

She is the only student at a public institution in New England selected as a Marshall Scholar for 2009. The other New England winners were four students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, three from Harvard, two from Boston College, and one each from Princeton and Middlebury.

Prairie will study for one year each either at the University of Nottingham and the London School of Economics and Political Science, or at the University of Warwick and the School of Advanced Study of the University of London.

She plans to become a professor of development economics, focusing her research on income inequality, particularly in Latin America, and on the effects of trade, aid, and government policies on the distribution of wealth. Eventually she hopes to be a policy analyst for the United Nations, the World Bank, or the U.S. government.

Prairie, who was valedictorian of her senior class at Rockville High School, entered UConn hoping to study international business. In her second semester she took an economics course and “something just clicked,” she recalls. She became an economics major in CLAS, where she has interned for the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis and for Associate Professor Susan Randolph (IDEAS), whose research focuses on development economics.

President Michael J. Hogan, whose letter of endorsement capped Prairie’s application to the Marshall committee, called her “thoughtful, astute, and very articulate.”

“Few students get as excited about economic theory and analysis as Michelle,” he wrote.

Prairie’s interest in development economics was born on a trip to Brazil with her church group when she was in high school.

She played soccer with 16-yearold Brazilians who had no shoes, she recalls. Riding on a bus from the airport through the outskirts of Sao Paulo, she was shocked by the stacked-up shanties on the mountainsides.

At UConn she found opportunities for study abroad in Sweden, where she observed the welfare state, and, through the campus Christian group, Reformed University Fellowship, in Peru, where she taught English as a volunteer and assisted a fledgling microfinance program.

“This is when I knew for certain that I wanted to become a development economist,” she wrote in her Marshall application. “I had found a way to serve the poor by using my passion for economic theory.”

She was reluctant at first to apply for a Marshall, questioning her chances among so many qualified applicants.

“In my mind, she had what it takes. She was a winner. She just needed to feel it,” says Jill R. Deans, director of the office of National Scholarships at UConn.

Deans arranged several mock interviews to prepare Michelle. Among the interviewers were history professor Christopher Clark, chair of the campus Marshall Scholarship nominating committee, and Sandra E. Shumway, adjunct professor in residence of Marine Sciences, who was herself a Marshall Scholar.

Prairie interns at the Travelers Insurance Company in the market research division. As a senior, she won the Travelers Insurance Company Scholarship, the top undergraduate award in the Economics Department.

Her mother, Ellen Prairie, works in the One-Card Office at Wilbur Cross, and her father, Robert Prairie, is a 1981 UConn alumnus in mechanical engineering technology.

“My whole four years at UConn, I could never have foreseen half of the things I’m doing now. I’m so appreciative to UConn for giving me these opportunities,” says Michelle.

She is UConn’s second student to win a prestigious Marshall scholarship, named for America’s first five-star Army general, George C. Marshall. In 1947, as President Harry Truman’s secretary of state, he proposed American economic assistance to post-war Europe.
UConn’s first Marshall Scholar, Virginia DeJohn Anderson, CLAS ’76, is now a professor of history at the University of Colorado. As an undergraduate at UConn she was advised by Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of History Richard Brown.

Two master’s degree candidates in economics are on a mission to make the world a better place, starting in Guatemala, where a multitude of non-profit organizations are seeking donors and resources to help develop their country.

Justin Podbielski, CLAS ’07, and Maura Williams visited Guatemala last summer as volunteers. They were struck by inefficiencies in the development community, where individual non-profit organizations sometimes compete for the same resources or are unaware of the activities of other non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

At first, they saw this as an academic problem — this is what happens in the non-profit community when there are no profit incentives to govern your actions.

Then they realized that the reputation of an NGO functioned as an incentive. The more information potential donors have about an organization, and the more transparent the NGO is, the more likely donors are to support it.

“If you improve the information flow, you can use access to information as a way to improve the flow of donations,” Podbielski theorized.

That’s when the problem moved them to action. They found a solution in a familiar tool: the social networking web site Facebook.

Read more in the UConn Advance.

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