For much of the past two years Claire and I have called Champaign-Urbana, Illinois home (with a remarkable once-in-a-lifetime 7-month stint in Kenya included). This has been a remarkable time. As I worked on my M.S. degree in Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois I’ve been privileged to be a part of a study examining the economic impacts of agroforestry, while also taking courses on development and environmental economics and getting to meet some terrific researchers at the nexus of economic development, sustainable agriculture, and environmental studies.
My graduating class of MS and PhD students at Illinois. Congratulations!
Let me just put in a brief plug for my department and field of study before I move on to what’s next. The Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics (ACE) at the University of Illinois focuses on applying economics to an array of practical problems, from understanding the causes of food waste, to predicting the effects of climate change on agriculture. The work done here is pretty concrete stuff. Applied economists take the conceptual tools provided by economic theory and use them to analyze real-world policies and problems. This is typical of agricultural and applied economics programs in land-grant institutions across the country–though I’d like to think Illinois has a lot going for its department in particular. This type of program often coexists with a “pure” economics department which focuses more on advancing the frontiers of economic theory and its ability to produce insights on human behavior. This not to say that researchers in economics departments don’t do applied work, but the land-grant mission of applied economics departments housed in agricultural institutions like the College of ACES at the University of Illinois makes applied work a natural fit. Other institutions which house similar departments include Cornell, UC Berkely, UC Davis, and Minnesota. I’m grateful to my professors here at Illinois, in particular my advisor, Kathy Baylis, whose work on on forests, agriculture, trade, poverty, and biodiversity is an inspiring example of the many applications of policy-focused economic analysis.
Now graduation is approaching! So what’s next?
To my immense gratitude, I get to continue studying applied economics! I’ve been accepted to Duke University’s PhD Program in Environmental Policy. This turns out to be very much in line with the type of program I’ve described above. Duke is not a land-grant institution (it’s a private university, rather than a public institution founded through a federal grant of western land like the University of Illinois), but its Sanford School of Public Policy sees itself as advancing a very similar mission. So my program was formed to train economists to tackle policy questions related to humanity’s impact on the environment. The researchers I’ll work with and learn from examine a multitude of issues including the effectiveness of protected forest areas, the value of improved cookstoves in developing countries, and the trade-offs involved in hydro-electic dam construction. I can’t wait to get started this fall.
Meanwhile Claire has been accepted to the School of Government at the University of North Carolina, where she’ll be working toward a Masters degree in Public Administration. Known as an “M.B.A. for non-profits” the M.P.A. program will prepare her to work in government or the non-profit social sector. She hopes to learn more about management, fund-raising, and H.R. while connecting with the the people and organizations providing resettlement services to refugees with the hope of serving that community after graduating.
So Durham, N.C. here we come! Yes, we’re aware we stand on opposite sides of the greatest basketball rivalry of all time. But hopefully it will only make our marriage stronger :-). To all our friends in the Southeast: see you soon! And a huge thank you and goodbye to our friends and community here in Illinois. We’ll miss you!