2022-2023 Newsletter

Fall 2022. Issue 7.


Welcome from the Department Chair

Welcome to the seventh issue of our annual newsletter Inside Economics. This past year witnessed a gradual return to “normal,” or at least a new normal, on the Hilltop. Of course, that does not mean the pandemic is over, nor does it mean that there are not lasting effects on students, staff, and faculty that alter the way we move forward together. Everyone is, to a certain extent, figuring it out on the fly. Everyone is doing the best they can.

In fact, this past year has reminded me of a scene in one of the funniest movies of all time, Fletch.

Fletch: “Well, there we’re in kind of a ‘grey’ area.”
Frank: “How grey?”
Fletch: “Charcoal?”

Despite these “charcoal” times, there have been accomplishments, change, and progress for Economics at SMU. Perhaps our greatest accomplishment has been a return to happiness in the department and the classroom, with students, staff, and faculty enjoying one another’s companionship in real life, not a virtual one. The sound of laughter and conversations in hallways and offices, and the sound of intellectual discussions in classrooms, a constant reminder of the joy of being on a college campus.

The passion of our faculty and their commitment to SMU’s mission to shape world changers was on full display this year. Dr. Elizabeth Wheaton, Senior Lecturer in the department and author of the textbook The Economics of Human Rights, is the principal investigator on a successful $1.187M grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in support of the SMU Human Trafficking Project. A portion of the description of the award states (see https://nij.ojp.gov/funding/awards/15pnij-22-gk-00246-brnd):

“Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Human Trafficking Project directly addresses the deficiencies in data collection and analysis and in the collaboration of expertise needed to ensure data efficacy and complete effective human trafficking research. The Project will construct the SMU Human Trafficking Data Warehouse... Research will determine the link between economics and human trafficking, the cost of doing nothing about human trafficking, the spatial and temporal patterns in human trafficking data and disparities in outcomes, and how to extract and complete human trafficking datasets using the integration of human-in-the-loop machine learning via human computation gaming… The Data Warehouse will be available to stakeholders with existing sources of human trafficking data as well as organizations and individuals involved in anti-trafficking work who are interested in collecting data... SMU’s unique collaborative setting allows economics, information technology, gaming, public policy, law, education, theology, and other disciplines to come together to solve world problems.”

Not to be outdone, the remainder of our 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 Klaus Desmet’s research on the unequal spatial impact of climate change was featured in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Digest. Professor Desmet’s research on using data from Facebook to compare the preferences of men and women in more gender-equal societies was featured recently in an article on VoxEU and on a VoxTalk podcast.

Professors Hao Dong and Wookun Kim were each awarded a University Research Council grant. Professor Dong’s funded research project develops a new nonparametric method to empirically test the so-called permanent income hypothesis even though “permanent” income is not observed in the data.

Professor Kim’s funded research project studies college enrollment decisions among Texas high school students with the goal of providing policy recommendations for achievement of the 60x30TX strategic plan. One goal of the plan is for 60% of the Texas population aged 25-34 to have a certificate or degree from an institution of higher education. As for myself, I received the 2022 Dedman Family Distinguished Professor Award for which I am deeply appreciative.

In the (physical) classroom, instructors have embraced the return to full-time, in-person classes. However, the department has used time during the pandemic to improve the quality of our in-class instruction. Drs. Wheaton and Mea Ahlberg have led a year-long investigation into student experiences in our introductory undergraduate courses, Principles of Microeconomics and Principles of Macroeconomics, as part of the Provost’s SMU-in-Four initiative. Their recommended changes are making their way into the classroom beginning this fall.

In addition to improving overall instructional quality in the classroom, the department is also committed to expanding diversity and inclusivity in economics. To this end, Drs. Wheaton and Ahlberg were invited participants at the Notre Dame Inclusive Teaching Academy. The event covered ways to enhance inclusive teaching through hands-on workshops and interaction with other like-minded colleagues and speakers.

SMƱRM-Economics (SMU Underrepresented Minorities Program in Economics) also continues to grow under the leadership of Professors Rocio Madera and Ömer Özak. The program holds 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. This past year, we held two events. First, Dr. Sandra Orozco-Aleman, president of the American Association of Hispanic Economists, visited SMU to speak with students and faculty. Second, we teamed up with the Business Leadership Society in the College of Business at UT-El Paso for a virtual event. Students across the two groups interacted, and we learned about their mentorship of students, including many Hispanic and first-generation college students. To stay informed on upcoming programming events, follow the Twitter account (@SMURM_Economics) and join our mailing list at smurm@list.smu.edu.

Economics continues to be the most popular major within Dedman College. In 2021-22, 185 students graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Economics. Nearly 400 current Mustangs have a declared major in Economics or Public Policy, a program composed of a mixture of economics and political science. Almost 100 current Mustangs have a declared minor in Economics.

Our May 2022 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, a few of our graduates wrote:

  • “I had a fantastic experience with the Economics Department. The faculty is definitely what sets this major apart!"
  • “I have really enjoyed my time here as an Economics major. I am very satisfied with my experience and cannot wait to see how far it takes me.”
  • “I’m excited to be a graduate of the department.”

Our graduate programs continue to attract students from across the globe. 13 students graduated from our masters’ programs in 2021-22. 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. Moreover, we also have announced our 4+1 program, enabling qualified SMU undergraduates to complete their undergraduate and master’s degrees in only five years. Interested students should consult with the department’s undergraduate advisor early on to ensure proper planning!

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. Seven new students joined our Ph.D. program in 2022. Two students graduated with their doctorate in 2022 despite the challenges of conducting research during the pandemic. Dr. Aastha Gupta is now an assistant professor of economics at Western Illinois University. Dr. Ding Liu is an associate at Analysis Group in Dallas.

The Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative continues to flourish despite a pandemic-induced lull in some of the activities. The joint initiative continues to support research on important domestic and international economic policy topics through fellowships for doctoral students, funding for faculty, national publicity for research output. We look forward to restarting the visiting fellows program that brings prominent policy experts to SMU in 2023. Three Ph.D. students are currently being funded as Bush fellows.

Finally, some personnel news! As I noted in last year’s newsletter, our undergraduate advisor, Maira Meki, and our graduate advisor, Stephanie Hall, left their positions as they each entered important new chapters in their lives. However, the department has not skipped a beat as Alyssa (Munk) Wong and Lacey Breaux have stepped into the roles. Alyssa quickly got up to speed and provides excellent advising to more than 500 undergraduate Mustangs studying economics at any point in time, as well as helping with scheduling, enrollment, graduation, and more. Lacey, who joined us from the Department of Physics at SMU, recently completed her master’s degree from the Simmons School at SMU in Higher Education/Higher Education Leadership and thus brings a wealth of experience and knowledge. She has quickly become the face of the graduate programs, providing essential services out front as well as behind the scenes for our master’s and Ph.D. students. Welcome, Alyssa and Lacey!

The department also hired a new tenure-track, assistant professor, Dr. Alipio Ferreira. Dr. Ferreira completed his Ph.D. in Economics in 2022 at the Toulouse School of Economics in France. He will join the department in Fall 2023 after spending the current year as a postdoctoral research fellow at J-PAL King Climate Action Initiative based at PUC-Rio de Janeiro. Dr. Ferreira conducts research in environmental economics and public finance. He will teach courses at SMU in the same areas.

But, we are also in the process of saying goodbye. Professor Ravi Batra will be retiring at the conclusion of this academic year. Professor Batra specializes in macroeconomics and international trade. He came to SMU in 1973. We wish him well!

 The higher education landscape is currently in a “charcoal”-colored period. We continue to make sense of what has been over the past few years and what will be as we move forward. I invite you to browse through this newsletter to learn more about how we are moving forward. Thank you for staying connected to us.


Daniel Millimet