From Minnesota to Morocco, Undergrad Explores Development Economics
"I always felt like economics was able to provide insight into a lot of different subject matters like social sciences, math, and policy," says Riley Runnoe, an economics major at the University of Minnesota. "Some people think economics is maximizing profits or picking the best business solution, but it’s a lot more than that." Riley is particularly interested in development economics, which complements his dual major in global studies.
Riley's passion has led him to be an active member of the campus' microfinance group Minnesota Microlenders. "We raise money in order to provide small loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries," explains Riley. "Microfinance takes away the profit-oriented side of credit transactions and allows more people to enter the small business arena."
Riley's interest in economics on a global scale led him to spend a semester studying abroad in Morocco, which was inspired by an experience he had in high school. "As a high school student, I had an incredible experience as part of an exchange program with teenagers from Iraq," recounts Riley. "They all came to the United States, and the program was centered around team building and mutual understanding. For a month we travelled around the country together." The experience motivated Riley to learn Arabic, which proved to be quite useful when deciding where to study abroad.
The exchange program and his semester abroad served as inspiration for his senior thesis topic. "It's an econometric analysis of how changing the religious attitudes in the Middle East, specifically towards women, affect measures of male welfare," Riley explains. The prospect of gathering data for this project may have discouraged others, but Riley dug deep enough to find the perfect data set for his project. "I found a collection of surveys across the Middle East starting in 1988, increasing in frequency with time, and in number of participating countries. The survey specifically asks men how they feel about women entering the workforce," explains Riley. He is pairing the results of these surveys with data on male welfare in the Middle East to conduct his econometric analysis, which he thinks will have some interesting results.
Thanks to all of the opportunities at University of Minnesota, Riley has been able to immerse himself in a multitude of academic and extracurricular activities. "I am fortunate to have been awarded scholarships through the Department of Economics and College of Liberal Arts," says Riley. He was awarded the Thomas and Kristin Holtz Scholarship in Economics in 2017 and the Harold Hardy Scholarship in Economics in 2016. "I have been able to focus on my studies and participate in extracurriculars in a way that would simply not have been possible without the help of these scholarships," says Riley. "Once I graduate, I know I will use the gifts I received from the economics department and CLA to help pay it forward."