2021-2022 Newsletter

Fall 2021. Issue 6.

Welcome from the Department Chair

Welcome to the sixth issue of our annual newsletter Inside Economics. While this past year has been one of uncertainty, angst, and exhaustion on the Hilltop, it has also been one of accomplishment, change, and progress for Economics at SMU.

Our faculty, staff, and students worked tirelessly last year to maintain high quality instruction and learning, be it virtual or SMUFlex. The tireless commitment to the dissemination and acquisition of knowledge continues this fall as we transition back to the classroom. Despite the return to “normal,” we know things are not. The toll of the pandemic is real and on-going. The mental health impact is real and on-going. The exhaustion is real and on-going.

Nonetheless, I feel certain that our faculty, staff, and students would make Jack Harbaugh proud. Jack is a former football player and coach and the father of current football coaches John and Jim Harbaugh. Jack’s sons often speak about what Jack would tell them every day while growing up:

“Attack this day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”

I am proud to oversee – and “see” once again – a department and student body that exhibits this type of enthusiasm on a daily basis. As a side note, when my own children were young, I would drop them off at school every day. As they exited the car, I wanted to inspire them as Jack inspired his children. Fully expecting eye rolls if I used Jack’s exact words, I instead took some creative liberties and told them to

“Be passionate, have fun, get some knowledge.”

My daughter still rolled her eyes. My son held out much longer, only rolling his eyes once he became a teenager. That aside, I think this version of Jack’s words is also an apt description of what we see in the Economics Department at SMU. It starts with the atmosphere created by our cherished staff. It continues with the amazing personalities and dedication of our faculty. And, it ends with the students, who seemingly know how to have fun and, occasionally, get some knowledge.

The passion of our faculty and their commitment to SMU’s mission to shape world changers was on full display this year as SMU’s Faculty Career Achievement Award was bestowed upon Professor Thomas Fomby. Tom’s response is emblematic of his humility and recognition of the role played by others. Tom stated:

“I am truly honored to have been chosen to receive this award. Without the support of my colleagues both within the economics department and outside of it, very few of my accomplishments would have been possible. SMU has afforded me the opportunity to achieve my career goals – researching at the highest level, teaching wonderful and talented students, and participating in the shared governance of the university via the Faculty Senate and serving on formative University committees.”

Not to be outdone, the remainder of outstanding faculty continue to be engaged in cutting edge research and publish regularly in top academic journals.  They also continue to receive important professional recognitions. Professor Tim Salmon was appointed to a five-year term as Editor of the journal Economic Inquiry. Professor Klaus Desmet’s research on climate change and migration was featured on an episode of the American Economic Association’s podcast series. Research by Professors Ömer Özak and Klaus Desmet using massive amounts of data from Facebook to measure cultural differences across populations was highlighted in an article on VoxEU. Professor Wookun Kim wrote a piece for VoxChina on his research into the effects of Korea’s baby bonus program.

The Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative continues to flourish. The joint initiative supports research on important domestic and international economic policy topics through fellowships for doctoral students, national publicity for research output, and a visiting fellows program that has brought several prominent policy experts to SMU. Two new fellows entered the Ph.D. program this fall.

Economics continues to be the most popular major within Dedman College.  In 2020-21, 166 students graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Economics. Nearly 350 current Mustangs have a declared major in Economics or Public Policy, a program composed of a mixture of economics and political science. More than 100 current Mustangs have a declared minor in Economics.

Our May 2021 graduates continued to demonstrate impressive performance in initial job placements. Exit surveys of Economics graduates stress the ability of economics to help one understand many diverse facets of the world, from international trade to human rights violations to local institutions to data analysis. Moreover, one of our graduates wrote:

“The Economics Department at SMU is filled with amazing professors who push you to excel both academically and in life. Their sincere dedication to economics is easily seen and inspires students like me to continue learning about the discipline.”

Moving forward, the undergraduate experience in the department will differ. First, as part of SMU’s Quality Enhancement Plan (known as “SMU in Four”), the department – led by Professors Elizabeth Wheaton and Mea Ahlberg -- is working with the Provost’s office to redesign our introductory courses in Principles of Microeconomics and Principles of Macroeconomics to enhance the first-year experience of Mustangs. Oh, did we mention Professor Mea Ahlberg? The department is pleased to welcome her as a Senior Lecturer beginning this fall, bringing a ton of experience and enthusiasm to the classroom.

Second, the department is working with the new program in Data Science available to SMU undergraduates to maximize the ability of our students to double major or earn a minor in Data Science.

Finally, thanks in part to a grant from the American economic Association, the department launched a new program, SMƱRM-Economics to ensure that the educational environment at SMU is inclusive and welcoming to all students. The program – guided by Professors Rocio Madera and Ömer Özak -- will hold regular events for students to help better understand the economics profession, including graduate school possibilities, connect students with internships and research opportunities, and network with SMU alumni. All those interested in further information should follow the Twitter account @SMURM_Economics and join our mailing list at smurm@list.smu.edu.

Our graduate programs continue to attract students from across the globe. 16 new students joined our masters’ programs in 2021. Skills in data analytics, rigorous economic modeling, and econometric tools enable our graduates to find rewarding professional jobs in financial and economics consultancy firms as well as other organizations.

Our doctoral program continues to be one of the most highly ranked on campus and graduates of the program play a crucial role in improving the visibility and academic reputation of SMU. Eight new students joined our Ph.D. program in 2021. Over the last three years, we graduated seven new doctorates, nearly half of whom identify as female, and almost all of them hold faculty positions in universities across the world or advanced research positions in major corporate organizations.

Finally, some sad news. Our fantastic undergraduate advisor, Maira Meki, is leaving her position this fall. Our equally amazing graduate advisor, Stephanie Hall, is also leaving her position this fall. I promise the Economics Department is a “passionate” place of “fun” and “knowledge,” as mentioned previously. The timing is coincidence, and the exodus is a good thing for both Maira and Stephanie. Maira is completing her Ed.D. in Higher Education through SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development and will take on a new role as an Associate Director of MS Admissions in SMU’s Cox School of Business. Stephanie completed her M.A. in Counseling, also through SMU’s Simmons School, and will dedicate herself full-time to her private counseling practice. Maira and Stephanie will be sorely missed, but we wish them both the best in their new adventures!

Yes, the pandemic continues. But, the department continues to move forward, attacking everyday with all the enthusiasm we can muster. I invite you to browse through this newsletter to learn more. Thank you for staying connected to us.


Daniel Millimet