To say that this has been a year unlike any other for the Department of Economics at SMU is not an overstatement.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present many challenges: virtual classes, hybrid classes, social distancing from friends and loved ones, postponed commencement ceremony, cancelled department commencement ceremony, uncertainty and anxiety about the job market for graduates, and more. Through it all, we have been inspired by the amazing efforts of faculty, staff, and students. These efforts will enable the department to continue to thrive during this unprecedented time.
Certainly not to be lost amid the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and associated #BlackAtSMU discussions have opened eyes to the need to ensure that every student is welcomed with open arms in the Department. No student, staff, or faculty member should feel out of place in the department. All individuals are to be respected and encouraged to engage in all aspects of Department life. We are all better for it.
While our lives and communities are experiencing profound changes outside the department and SMU, changes are also occurring within the Department. The most notable changes are to be found at the leadership positions. After six years, Dr. Santanu Roy returns to being a “regular” faculty member, having concluded his term as Department Chair. We are all tremendously thankful for Dr. Roy’s years of leadership.
Under Dr. Roy’s guidance, the Department has excelled. Notably, Dr. Roy helped launch a major joint initiative with the President George W. Bush Institute. The Initiative on Economic Growth combines the nationally acclaimed research expertise of SMU’s economics faculty with the Bush Institute's outreach and strength in the world of economic policy makers. The objective of the initiative is to provide a consequential and credible non-partisan voice on policy issues such as globalization, international trade, competitiveness of the U.S. economy, immigration, and domestic economic policies that promote economic growth. The Initiative also supports research on these topics at SMU through fellowships for doctoral students, research funds for faculty, and national publicity of our academic research output. A visiting fellows program brings nationally prominent experts in the domain of economic policy to SMU.
Inside the classroom, the popularity of economics at SMU continues unabated. Economics remains the most popular major within Dedman College (and the second most popular major in the entire university). Our faculty teach students how to think, not what to think. The rapid changes in 2020 have made clear that students must be trained to deal with the unexpected. As testimony to the preparation students receive, our graduates continue to demonstrate impressive performance in initial job placements, including positions at Oracle, American Airlines, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Exxon Mobil, JP Morgan Chase, Ernst and Young, Goldman Sachs, and many more globally prominent employers. Exit surveys of economics graduates indicate a high degree of satisfaction with our undergraduate program and almost two-thirds of students mention the high quality of the economics faculty as the best part of their experience.
Our M.A. and M.S. programs continue to attract students from across the globe and enrollment has been increasing over the last few years. The M.S. program in Applied Economics and Predictive Analytics is a major attractor as it combines skills in data analytics with rigorous economic modeling and econometric tools to discover economic causality. Graduates work as professionals in financial, economics consultancy, and other corporate organizations across the globe.
Our doctoral program continues to be one of the most highly ranked on campus and graduates of the program are playing a very important role in improving the visibility and academic reputation of SMU around the world. Recent graduates hold Assistant Professor positions in colleges and universities in the U.S., Colombia, China, England, and India, while others have become advanced researchers in major corporate organizations.
Finally, Dr. Roy has set up the Department for future success as he oversaw the hiring of five new faculty members. Dr. Rocio Madera teaches courses in macroeconomics and conducts research at the intersection of macroeconomics and household economics. Dr. Nate Pattison teaches courses in microeconomics and econometrics and conducts research on personal finance. Dr. Hao Dong teaches courses in econometrics and conducts research in econometric theory. Dr. Michael Sposi joined the Department from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. He teaches courses in international macroeconomics and conducts research in the same area. Lastly, Dr. Wookun Kim joins our Department this fall. Dr. Kim will teach courses in urban and development economics. He conducts research in several areas of urban economics.
Dr. Roy leaves big shoes to fill. I am honored (to try) to do so as the new Department Chair. In addition to stepping into the role of Department Chair, Dr. Kathy Hayes will continue to serve as the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Bo Chen will continue to serve as Director of Masters Studies, and Dr. James Lake will assume the role of Director of Doctoral Studies. The Department is also tremendously grateful to Dr. Tim Salmon for serving as Director of Doctoral Studies for many years. Last, but certainly not least, the Department continues to be extremely fortunate to have an absolutely incredible staff, including Margaux Montgomery (Departmental Administrator), Maira Meki (Undergraduate Advisor), and Stephanie Robertson (Graduate Advisor).
As we forge ahead, we are looking forward to several new items on the horizon. First, we are eagerly awaiting the return of students to campus. But, regardless of the form of instruction in the near-term, we look forward to educating the next cohort of economists. Second, we are eager to pair the study of economics with the new B.S. in Data Science. Data science is an exciting field, with its emphasis on using data to describe and understand the world around us. Moving forward, students will have the opportunity to combine ideas and methods from statistics, computer science, and optimization with economics by earning a dual degree in economics and data science. Finally, we will continually review the culture and curriculum within the Department to ensure that we are exposing students to diverse set of intellectual experiences in a welcoming and inclusive environment.