Why I Majored in Economics

Lucie Abele ’22

I chose to major in economics, because I enjoy learning about human decision-making and how our decisions directly impact our communities and environment. I also appreciate the extreme versatility within the field. Economics is the perfect crossover of research and analysis with human activity. Economic theory reaches into the fields of both STEM and social science, involving studies of areas such as math, politics, and psychology. Additionally, economic theory allows for quantitative analysis and qualitative examination of human and economic interaction in complimentary fields like law, business, finance, consulting, health and athletics.

For example, in Professor Stephen Marks’ Law and Economics class, we learned to evaluate legal cases from the perspectives of both economic and legal theory. I found the deliberate intertwining of these two fields intriguing – while they seem to be at odds, economic theory factors into legal theory and decision-making far more prominently than I would have expected. In Professor Marks’ course, I was able to explore in depth the decisions of various Supreme Court cases. I conducted detailed research regarding the legal and economic analysis of Penn Central Transportation Co. v. City of New York, diving into the legal issues of the case, the economic factors, and the social and public policy implications of the majority decision. Exploring topics such as these on a case-by-case basis showed me how applicable the study of economics is to so many other fields and opened my eyes to the myriad of areas and opportunities into which an economics major could lead.

Additionally, the economics faculty at Pomona is incredible. Economics is a subject that impacts everyone, and understanding economics, even at an introductory level, is helpful in one’s day-to-day life. The gifted scholars in this department not only teach Economic theory and its implications, but they also foster a successful learning environment and assist students in and out of the classroom. With them and with my Economics peers, I have made great friendships and have deeply enjoyed learning in this inviting space.

Cathy Kim ’22

Economics at Pomona is a great crossroads for those who enjoy the certainty of numerical answers and also seek a deeper understanding of human behavior and decision-making processes. As someone who enjoys reaching that one perfect answer while also wondering how people come to financial decisions, I found that economics was a great interdisciplinary major for me. Coming into college, I never considered majoring in economics, however, Professor Manisha Goel’s introductory macroeconomics class completely changed my outlook. Learning about models and their real-world applications helped me understand how central these principles are in our lives, and I found myself connecting my new economics knowledge in other classes and passions.

A great benefit of majoring in economics is that it opens doors to a wealth of diverse career options. Many economics majors pursue careers in finance and consulting, however, the tools you learn are applicable in any industry. Thanks to the practical knowledge I gained from my courses, I will be spending my summer interning in the fashion industry, at Bloomingdale’s Executive Development Program. Ultimately, you’re free to combine the major with anything else you are passionate about.

In my Economics of the Public Sector class, most of our lectures focused on domestic dynamics, however, we were given the freedom to research any country we were interested in for our final paper.

Using the principles, we learned in class, we analyzed the impacts of economic reforms on Mexico’s ejido system and came up with policy recommendations. Much of the work I’ve done in my classes helps me look at economic realities through a more knowledgeable lens.

Asaka Mori ’22

I instantly knew I wanted to major in economics when I took Principles of Macroeconomics course in the first semester of my freshman year. I was amazed by how we could predict human behavior and model various social phenomena using theories I’ve learned in class. Economics helps us understand so much of what is happening around the world, including politics, climate change, poverty and health care. I also love the fact that it is an interdisciplinary major which incorporates both quantitative and qualitative analysis and can be used in any career paths after graduating from college.

Our Economics Department provides collaborative learning experience with professors. In the economics classes I have taken, I was fortunate to meet so many brilliant professors who are more than willing to help us learn economics and prepare for our future. I enjoy going to office hours, where professors are willing to explain the class material until I can fully understand and are open to talk about my future plans.

During Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP), I had a chance to work as a research assistant for Professor Michael Kuehlwein who was my professor for Principles of Macroeconomics class. We researched the impact of rising minimum wages in Los Angeles (L.A.) on the employment rate of the garment industry in the city. I was fascinated by this topic because the empirical effect of the change in minimum wages is still debated despite the fact that the economic theory suggests that the rise of minimum wages would decrease the employment rate. For our research, after collecting a sample of apparel manufacturing firms in L.A. from 2008 to 2018, we measured the ratios of the employment rates in the garment industry in L.A. to that in the United States as well as the ratios of minimum wages in L.A. to the federal minimum wages over these years. By using ratios, we controlled for other factors that may influence the employment rate, such as the rise of the rent prices and global competition. We ran regressions to measure how the ratio of minimum wages in L.A. to the federal minimum wages, which has been increasing as the minimum wages in L.A. increases rapidly over the years, is correlated with the ratio of employment rate in L.A. to that in the U.S., or how much faster the employment rate is falling in L.A. compared to the national trend. Professor Kuehlwein helped me write my own research paper for the first time, and this experience gave me a glimpse of what it is like to conduct a research in economics.

Pomona College gives us opportunities to explore different subjects, and I believe that economics is the one that is worth being explored. This is not just because of how great our economic department is but also because this subject is intertwined with other fields of study. After taking economics classes, I became interested in other subjects which are also discussed in our economics courses, such as mathematics, politics, and environmental analysis. If you are a Pomona student, I would definitely recommend taking at least one econ class!

Virgil Munyemana ’22

Coming into college, I knew I was interested in entrepreneurship. My sister recommended I do economics given its association with business and finance, so I honestly took economics courses on a whim at first. However, as I delved deeper into the major, I've realized how interdisciplinary the field is and all the different fields it could be used in, from policy work to academic research. I’ve even seen it used in social justice contexts, which is especially important given the renewed push for racial justice we’ve seen in the past summer. Economics can take you anywhere you want to go, it just depends on how you want to use it.

The professors are all very in love with the courses they teach and their enthusiasm shows, especially in office hours. They always try to make themselves as available as possible, which has been really helpful for me coming from a less privileged background. In addition, the economics department offers a cohort specifically for underrepresented students in the economics field to have a support system. Without this cohort, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the major as much as I did in my first year.

During the summer after my sophomore year, I was fortunate enough to have an internship at a private equity firm called the Vistria Group. They buy companies that work in healthcare, education, and/or financial services and try to improve their business models. I was working in the healthcare team and was tasked with creating an investment thesis for the durable medical equipment market, which is made up of things like glucose monitors, ventilators, and other products for chronic conditions. I had to use data from sources such as the Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services and the U.S. Census Bureau to support my argument, allowing me to use some of my economics knowledge in a real world situation. It was a really valuable experience and I also felt like I was doing some good in the world at the same time.

The economics department put out a very comprehensive statement in support of Black Lives Matter and acknowledged the role that economics can have in perpetuating these issues, as well as solving them. I appreciate the department taking the time to do this and am hopeful they will incorporate this mindset into the way classes are taught. I’m happy to be in a major where I feel supported.

Calvin Ng ’22

Growing up in Singapore, I was constantly exposed to policies which strived to maximize our benefits given the constraints of our limited natural resources. I had always considered an economics major, but with the vast array of fascinating fields offered, it initially felt difficult to confine myself to a single field of study. However, the beauty of economics lies in its multidisciplinary nature which allows me the flexibility to focus on economics in conjunction with my other interests.

Economics is a constantly evolving field that draws from a multitude of disciplines. For instance, in Professor Eleanor Brown’s microeconomics class, we attempted to quantify philosophy’s age-old trolley problem and studied how economists determine the value of a human life. In the field of behavioral economics, we integrate ideas from psychology to understand why humans sometimes act “irrationally.” In the new field of neuroeconomics, we interpolate the tools of neuroscience such as fMRIs to elucidate the intricacies of the human mind.

The economics major, which requires five electives, allows great flexibility by allowing students to craft their own path and gain depth in a particular subfield of economics. However, my best advice is to also take classes outside of your immediate field of interest. I took Economics of Immigration [course] on a whim this past semester, and it ended up becoming one of my favorite classes; I was able to gain a deep appreciation for the role of immigrants in a country’s success.

In addition, many students, like myself, also complete an additional major or minor. As an economics and biology double major, I am interested in solving health problems through scientific advancement and allocation of healthcare resources. Within the economics major, I was often given complete freedom to tackle research projects of my interest. In my Econometrics class, I had the opportunity to study the determinants of receiving the Influenza vaccine. I analyzed census data from the Centers for Disease Control and found that education level and race were the largest determinants. I hope to extrapolate these findings and apply them to the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines.

Outside of the classroom, I have explored a wide variety of internships. I gained experience as a research assistant investigating the dancing plant (C.Motorius) before working as a business analyst for StemCord, a biotechnology cord blood bank. This summer, I will be working as a summer associate for a consulting firm in Los Angeles. Hence, I strongly believe that the economics major will ground you with a strong foundation of the quantitative and qualitative skills required for almost any job. Whether your next destination is business, government, graduate school, or something completely different, you will be well equipped to take on the next challenge.

Helena Ong ’22

Economics embodies what it means to be interdisciplinary in both its foundational principles and its applications. Taking the introductory economics courses revealed how the discipline served as a baseline for understanding so much about human behaviors, interactions and facets of society. The upper division course selection exposes you to just how complex and diverse the field of study is with classes such as Corporate Finance, Behavioral Economics, and Environmental Economics that have personally helped me to understand how Economics is applicable to so many different fields.

The Economics Department at Pomona houses some of the most supportive and inspirational faculty I have met. Throughout my 10 economics courses, I have been able to learn from professors who have encouraged me through classes, office hours, research projects and even lunches. Whenever I had questions about my academic journey at Pomona or my internships and job opportunities, my economics professors provided me with invaluable insight and experience that has positively shaped my time at Pomona. It is so evident that the professors at the Economics Department not only are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about what they teach, they also have a genuinely vested interest in their students’ lives. Whether it was helping me choose between internship offers or releasing an important statement about economics’ role in social issues, the faculty in the department are a huge reason I studied economics at Pomona!

I have been able to apply the knowledge from classes at several of my summer projects and internships. Working at the USDA, I was able to utilize trade and tariff theory I learned in my macroeconomics courses to help quantitatively model the U.S.-China trade-war in 2019. I have also been able to extend the financial and business side of economics at my internship in asset management with Alliance Bernstein where I worked to manage risk in institutional clients’ portfolios and my internship in Trading with JP Morgan where I will research markets for certain asset classes.

Ananya Sen ’22

I first fell in love with economics in my senior year of high school, when I came across Crash Course Economics on YouTube while preparing for a test and learnt about the practical applications of the subject – from how firms set prices to finding a way to measure individual happiness. And so, coming into college, I decided to major in economics.

However, I was only truly convinced of my choice when I took my first two electives at Pomona. It was then that I realized that economics is less a subject than a lens through which I can analyze absolutely anything and everything. For instance, in a paper I wrote for my Econometrics class, I studied the relation between literacy and mortality in India. Despite being a subject that focuses on optimization through the use of constraints (iykyk), economics for me proved to be optimal for the freedom it provides in the fields that it can be applied to – from mathematics to political science to psychology. Moreover, by comprising both normative and positive science, economics teaches one to bridge the gap between idealism and realism, and thus gain the potential to change society for the better.

Studying economics at Pomona is especially great because the professors are not only brilliant and truly passionate about the subject, but also exceptionally caring and invested in your personal success. The classes themselves are designed to teach you how to be a good economist; for instance, Professor Gary Smith’s Statistics course focuses a lot on how to avoid data modification, while Professor Malte Dold’s PPE course attempts to integrate ethics into economic analysis. Moreover, Pomona’s culture of collaboration is exemplified in the department: some of my most memorable nights at Pomona were spent wading through difficult but rewarding problem sets in one of the classrooms in Carnegie Hall with my classmates, nibbling on one or two chocolate muffins from the Coop.

This semester, I am working part-time as a research assistant to Professor Abhinash Borah at Ashoka University in New Delhi, where I am studying how polarization and the motivated reasoning it engenders influences content and (dis)information transmission in media spaces. The research involves designing a behavioral experiment, and analyzing social media algorithms, amongst other things. I am particularly excited about this opportunity because the scope of the project is more than just academic – apart from writing papers, we will also be brainstorming and implementing strategies to initiate discourse on these topics.

To any prospective students of economics, I will say this: do not be afraid to email professors, even if you have never met them before, and ask for advice on classes, research opportunities or grad school. The department provides you with all the support you may need, but it is up to you to seize it.

Franco Vijandre ’22

Coming into Pomona College I wanted to study something that would leave me with a diverse skill set, challenging both my quantitative and qualitative abilities, and economics does just that. Economics is about understanding behavior and real-world outcomes, and to do that you need to be creative in your reasoning but at the same time grounded in quantitative fact. Economics is also incredibly interdisciplinary and combines many of my other interests in mathematics, politics and sociology into one major. The interdisciplinary nature of the subject leads to a diverse offering of classes from finance courses to courses in development or international relations. The diversity of the major allowed me to find my own niche and granted me the flexibility to apply my economics degree to many potential career paths.

The professors in the Economics Department are truly remarkable. They all have a deep passion for what they teach and genuinely care about your learning. While the courses are challenging, the department provides all the tools for its students to succeed, with regular office hours, mentor sessions, and cohorts. The courses in the major are designed to equip students with a skill set to apply to real-world scenarios and original research. By my second year, I had already written two research papers surrounding my interest in voter trends, by utilizing the skills taught in my Economic Statistics and Econometrics classes. Most importantly the Economics department is filled with a great sense of camaraderie. Everyone is rooting for your success and the department will make any student feel at home.

This past summer I assisted Professor Michelle Zemel and Professor Manisha Goel in their research on economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. My contribution to the research was to prepare a literature review to understand how an abstract concept like uncertainty is measured and what macro and microeconomic effects are expected during times of heightened uncertainty. I empirically tested the different methods of calculating uncertainty, aggregating millions of rows of stock price and forecaster data, to conclude that the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is at historic highs, even more so than the 2007-2009 recession. In addition to my summer research, I also interned at a boutique investment bank. I was working on several live deals in the medical devices and social media industries. During my internship, I was able to see how my studies in economics applied outside the academic setting. I constantly used econometric tools, and both macro and microeconomic theory to aid in my analysis and construction of financial models.

I would recommend to any incoming student, even if you are not interested in the field, to take at least one introductory course in economics. The economy affects everyone’s life and having a basic understanding of macro and microeconomic concepts will be incredibly useful in the future.

Kevin Wu ’23

There’s an old story that goes something like this: A physicist, a chemist, and an economist are stranded on a desert island, and they’re famished. Then a can of soup washes ashore. Chicken noodle soup let’s say.

But, famished as they are, our three professionals have no way to open the can. So, they put their brains to the problem. The physicist says, “We could drop it from the top of that tree over there until it breaks open.” The chemist says, “We could build a fire and sit the can in the flames until it bursts open.” The two squabble a bit, until the economist says “No, no, no. Come on, guys, you’d lose most of the soup. Let's do this. First, assume we have a can opener...”

Basically, I like to tell people I chose to major in economics so that I could assume and model my way out of any problem. Joking aside, economics is the intersection of math, psychology and decision making that can describe a wide array of experiences and phenomena that we hardly notice in our daily comings and goings—phenomena that are nonetheless incredibly revealing and insightful. It was both the wide breath and media coverage of the subject that initially drew me in, in addition to the fact that my high school economics teachers were really cool. Thanks Mr. Geers, et al.

Economics not only offers the opportunity to play with math, numbers and models, but it also enables us to better understand and recognize embedded assumptions in stories and models that drive how people think and interact. It marries stories and reality to models and numbers that we can digest and understand to get a better picture of what the heck is going on in the world around us.

As with any Pomona major, my most memorable experiences have been speaking with alumni, students and professors or working with them to get a better grasp of a specific problem, subject, or career path. There is a lot of content to cover in economics and some topics may be both mathematically and intuitively challenging, but when you sit down on zoom, and have an entire whiteboard filled with abstracts of Ash Ketchum, bizarre scribbles, and half-completed graphs—among many other things—and you’ve spent time with others really digesting a tough problem or discussing current events and plans for the future...that’s when you say to yourself: this is awesome.

For future students, all I have to say is try it out! Economics is so broad that you could find a niche in any of its verticals. What you learn along the way are the problem-solving mechanisms that will carry over to any occupation or club or obstacle you experience in the future, and faculty are really willing to sit down and help.

My Econstats companion and I last semester wrote a topic on the relationship between COVID-19 cases and the impact on the restaurant industry for different geographical relationships in the U.S. We were given the tools and the freedom to explore a variety of topics we were interested in and turned it into something we could pin to the refrigerator at the end of the year--which was really cool. It was like: Hey mom! I’m not just sitting around eating shrimp crackers during college. I’m doing something with my life.

One thing I’m really excited about—but kind of slow to complete—is an economic analysis of South Park (a TV show I’m into), SouthParkonomics if you will. It’s fun just taking some of the content learned in class and trying to apply in some quirky places to see how things hold up/what they look like. Taking theory to application, so they say. There’s a lot of that type of stuff at Pomona (not only in the econ department) where people are taking what they like to do and put it into something tangible. I didn’t really get it when I first got to campus, but it’s kind of contagious, so now I kind of do.      

If you ever have any questions, always feel free to reach out, you will find that more than often people will have a lot to give, even to complete strangers. Reach out to others in your classes and form a team to bounce ideas off and work with, building that team will be critical to your success. As with anything though, it takes time, so even if things aren’t going well—if you can even take one inch forward or find somebody to talk to—you’ve really gone a mile in accomplishing things. Fight On!