Student & Professor Focus

Outstanding students present to Virginian economists

By Dr. Alice Kassens

On March 12th and 13th, Roanoke College seniors Samantha Sterba ‘09 and Virginia Hopkins ‘09 accompanied me to the 2009 Virginia Association of Economists (VAE) 36th Annual Meeting. This trip really began, however, during the fall semester of 2008.

Samantha and Virginia are amongst our most outstanding economics majors. Last fall they were enrolled in one of the required courses for the major, my econometrics course (ECON 448). Many economics majors come to the first day of this class with trepidation, and I have created considerable anxiety each fall with terms such as "heteroskedasticity" and "serial correlation," numerous assignments and "impossible" tests, but Samantha and Virginia earned the return on the course that I have pitched since I came to Roanoke College and first taught it.

One of the requirements of the course is an original empirical 15- to 20-page paper in which the student must build an econometric model to test a hypothesis utilizing the economic theory that they have acquired over the prior three years. Samantha's paper, "Are Stimulus Checks an Effective Fiscal Policy Tool?" and Virginia's paper, "Determinants of Cigarette Consumption and Resulting Policy Recommendations," were outstanding. The papers were so good that I asked them if they would like to present their work in one of the student sessions at the VAE annual meeting, and they jumped at the opportunity. Both Samantha's and Virginia's papers were accepted for presentation, and our next task was to find funding to help get them to the meeting. Initially the funding search was unfruitful, but I was soon directed to Dr. Jack Steehler, Thornhill Professor of Chemistry and Director of Students/Faculty Research, and his student travel fund. He encouraged the students' applications and ultimately funded their entire trip. (Thanks Jack!)

The first evening at the VAE included a banquet and lecture. Roanoke College took the stage when our own Dr. Garry Fleming was named the Association's Distinguished Fellow. He is Roanoke's Shannon Professor of Economics and former President of the Virginia Association of Economists.

The next day, however, was all about Samantha and Virginia. I chaired their session and was more nervous for their presentation than I was for my own, which would take place later in the day. I had all of the confidence in the world for our young economists, but I also knew the apprehension and worry that accompany one's first professional presentation. My nerves immediately subsided when I called Samantha to the podium. She had her usual smile and glint in her eye and, without pause, launched into her presentation. Samantha was at ease from start to finish, eloquently making her case and confidently defending her results. Virginia picked up where Samantha left off, flashing a smile to the audience, letting all know that they had a tough act to follow. Indeed they did, as Virginia worked her way through her elasticity estimates like a seasoned professional.

It is difficult for me to put into words just how proud I am of these young ladies. The four years of their economics education culminated in two outstanding performances in Richmond, Virginia, and I had the privilege of witnessing it. Sitting in the audience watching them perform with such poise and self-assurance, I was overwhelmed with joy and pride. In fact, their presentations were the two proudest moments of my academic career. Give these ladies a pat on the back when you see them around campus this spring, as they showed all present in Richmond just what Roanoke College has to offer. To their parents: Know how honored we all are to have taught such bright scholars. Finally, for the students currently signing up for econometrics for the fall of 2009, if you dedicate yourselves the way these students did, you too can take the step into the world of professional economists, gain tremendous experience and skills and reap a high rate of return. See you in August!

Released: August 9, 2010