STEP Reflection: Senior Thesis

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

My STEP Signature Project entailed working towards completion of my senior thesis. The thesis was focused on investigating behavioral preferences in children ages 9-10 and comparing these trends with household factors. This was an independent study that used both original experimental and survey data that were studied through regression analysis..

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

One major thing that I learned in this project was that a PhD in economics is not my next step. Although I love behavioral research and discovering why people make the decisions that they do, I would like to have more of an impact in my career that I don’t feel research alone will provide. For this reason, I would like to pursue social science research in a non-profit or civil service setting where my findings and results could be used to reconstruct benefit systems or organizations that directly assist marginalized citizens.

I also began to recognize more deeply how the conditions we grow in are direct factors of the path we take in life. This has made me more passionate about revitalizing our school systems such that children have individualized attention and adequate nutrition. For this reason, I would like to pursue involvement in local or state public policy or office within the next ten years.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

Conducting research with human subjects can be pedantic due to the regulations set by the Institutional Review Board. Research with children is particularly tricky because they are considered “at-risk”. To participate in the study, the children’s parents had several forms to fill out. While a majority of the parents in wealthier school districts had a good turnout for signed forms, the lesser resourced schools were far more scarce. This led me to think about what representation these children have to access resources. If their parents are either unable or unwilling to sign a form for a small study, could there be necessities or other programs these children do not have access to? This is something that I care deeply about and would like to ensure is rectified.

Furthermore, the results of my study also had an impact. While I found little evidence of differences between cohorts for risk or social preferences, I did find that motivations to increase payoff in games were statistically significant with mother’s education. In the study, I used mother’s education as a proxy for household income and general socioeconomic status, as it correlated significantly with other socioeconomic variables. So this finding generally suggests that affluent children in the fourth grade are generally more concerned with increasing payoff than their peers. These results really made me think about the prominence of financial wellness as a matter of urgency. Are children from wealthier families genetically predisposed to think about payoffs or did they learn this from their parents. I believe the true way to investigate this is by researching younger children.

The results of my study also played a major role because they made me discover that while I like research, there was little I contributed to actually solving the issues in question. It made me realize how young  I truly am and how many years I have left to make real change in this world. This paper will not be published in a major economic journal, but very few, if any, undergraduates do have that opportunity. The planning and motivations of this project allowed me to see my potential, while the results left me wanting to redirect those efforts in the future.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

As previously mentioned, this experience was one of the greatest factors in redefining  my career goals. While throughout my undergraduate career I wanted to pursue a PhD in Economics, I now want to shift my focus to law and civil service. I want to make a change and contribute to society in the six years that would otherwise be spent taking classes and doing narrow research. I am now taking steps to develop a platform and gain experience in other ways.

In August of 2018, I will begin a Master’s in Applied Mathematics at Ohio University. During that time, I will be preparing myself physically and academically for an application to become and Air Force officer. As a commissioned officer, I would like to begin as a behavioral or analytical scientist with a focus on promoting efficiency and benefits to other airmen. After serving for a few years, my next step would be applying to become a Judge Advocate General with a focus on international law. I feel that in this path I can serve the people that have allowed me to develop, while also honing my skills to better prepare for my time after the Air Force. However, I never would have realized this if not for the time I took to complete my thesis and the resources the STEP Program provided that allowed me to do so.