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Economics as a Path to Public Policy

June 3, 2019

Photo of student Ms Dasom Ham

Photo of student Ms Dasom Ham
Photo by Phuong Tran

“I’ve always been interested in public policy, and economics makes it easier to understand which policies should be pursued or implemented,” says spring 2019 graduate Dasom Ham. Ham’s affinity for economics started when she took an AP microeconomics class in high school and began exploring the intricate relationship between economics and public policy. 

Ham has made the most of her time at the University of Minnesota, which she chose because of the strong foundation that the economics department provides for graduate programs. She immersed herself in classes, research, extracurriculars, and leadership. From running her own nonprofit to being an undergraduate research assistant for the Heller-Hurwicz Economics Institute, Ham is prepared to succeed in graduate school.

Delving Into Data

“Research was a great way to learn data management skills that I had no idea about and then just do trial and error and just keep on going deeper, sustaining diligence,” says Ham. Working with data is critical to research and CLA gave Ham opportunities to experiment with managing datasets, extracting data from various websites, and performing econometric analysis with statistical software such as Stata. 

Ham’s stints as a research assistant in the economics department, political science department, and the Heller-Hurwicz Research Institute allowed her to better understand the intersection of economics and public policy. 

In January 2017, Ham worked as a research assistant for Assistant Professor Jane Sumner in the political science department. She says that Sumner introduced her to the research domain and taught her not just how to look at data but also where to find it. During this period, Ham compiled data on multinational corporations such as Royal Dutch Shell Company and Toyota and its subsidiaries.

Ham also worked as a research assistant for Professor Thomas Holmes in the economics department. Ham says that Holmes helped her become a “better researcher.” Ham learned how to “webscrape data” that is, gather data from the web for analysis. “For instance, I helped gather data from an online data set for a project about what ports different cargo ships were at, at different times.”

For another of Holmes’ research projects, Ham investigated the “superstar effect,” which refers to a change in the performance of all competing players in a game when a highly ranked player is also participating. 

The research seeks to explain why some actors are paid so much more than others. She extracted data from an online index of different actors and actresses based on the kinds of movies they worked on and the movies’ box-office earnings, using the programming language Python.

Thanks so all the research opportunities at the University of Minnesota, Ham could immerse herself in research and develop the skills and knowledge that she needs to pursue a graduate degree. “This experience has given me the practice of learning a new skill and applying it in different ways, and I think this will help me in the future, especially in research!”

Interpersonal Learning

Over the last few years, Ham has developed a great relationship with her advisors and professors. Her honors advisor, Ian Ringgenberg, helped her navigate college. “He is a lifesaver,” she states, “he taught me how to select courses and how best to schedule them.” Ham also enjoys a good rapport with both professors with whom she has conducted research, “Professor Jane Sumner and Professor Holmes introduced me to the research domain, taught me the basics of it, and pushed me to become a better researcher.”

“Someone once told me to analyze the career path of the people you look up to and then see how their education path developed to get them where they are today,” says Ham, “For me, these people were economists who worked with active public policy.” 

After graduating in May 2019, Ham has accepted a position in the research division of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. She ultimately hopes to enroll in a rigorous economics PhD program and influence public policy with her degree.

This story was written by an undergraduate student in CLAgency. Meet the team.