Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Brant Walker is from Dubuque, Iowa and has recently received a Fulbright scholarship to study in Germany in 2022. He is graduating this year with Bachelor of Science degrees in Economics and Mathematics and a minor in Philosophy.

In what follows, Brant is telling us a little bit about himself and his experience at the University of Iowa and two of his professors are some of his amazing accomplishments.

What are you passionate about in the field of Economics?

 “I am interested in environmental and health economics, and how these two fields intersect. In my future research, I will investigate how the environment and climate change impact socioeconomic outcomes such as the labor market, public health, or human-capital formulation, and how those effects are distributed amongst different groups of people. I am particularly interested in policy-relevant topics, and how governmental intervention can help/hinder the necessary transition to a “greener” economy.”

Tell us a little bit about your research experience at the University of Iowa.

“In the past two years, I pursued multiple research projects under the guidance of Professor Jeff DeSimone. I owe much of my success to his mentorship; he took a chance on me when no one else was willing to support my research ideas, and his patience and kindness has been key to my development as an economist. During our partnership, I studied potential determinants (schooling, income) of sustainable behavior, the effect of Ignition Interlock Laws (a common drunk driving policy) on DUI arrests, and the impact of wildfires on pregnancy outcomes. We have also coauthored a literature review on risky adolescent behavior.

I have been lucky enough to receive funding from the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates (ICRU) and the Public Policy Center (PPC) during my time at the University of Iowa. Also, I participated in the Summer Policy Institute in the PPC, and presented my research at conferences/lecture series hosted by the Western Economic Association, Midwestern Economic Association, and the ICRU.”

What are your future plans?

“After the grant period, I plan to earn a Ph.D. in Economics and enter academia as a researcher. However, I am also interested in working outside of academia on policy ideas at institutions such as Resources for the Future. Ultimately, I am keeping my options open.”

What will your Fulbright scholarship entail?

“I will be joining a team of researchers at the University of Mannheim under the guidance of Professor Ulrich Wagner, who recently received a prestigious European Research Council grant. This group studies the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), a cap-and-trade program at the center of the EU’s policy to control climate change. Specifically, they focus on a) evaluating the effectiveness of the EU ETS in reducing pollution and limiting climate change, b) how environmental quality affects socioeconomic outcomes and who is affected, and c) how energy can be used for economic growth without harming our environment.

 My project will be focused on the impact of the EU ETS on human health outcomes. I plan to quantify the effect of the EU ETS on a) life expectancy and mortality rates, b) chronic diseases such as asthma and lung cancer, and c) health care expenditures and hospital visit lengths. So far, research on the EU ETS has been limited to labor market outcomes such as unemployment and trade. This project aims to expand our knowledge of the impact of the EU ETS and cap-and-trade systems as a whole, providing a more comprehensive benefit-cost analysis as policy makers make decisions on how to moderate air quality and control climate change.”

What is your advice for current and future students at the University of Iowa?

“The most integral part of my success was finding my advisor, Professor DeSimone. I highly encourage any student interested in pursuing economics to find a professor who can guide you. That being said, do not be afraid to try out ideas on your own. I started my first project the summer after my sophomore year while I was working at a local manufacturing plant, just because I wanted to see if I could do this type of work (this project was severely lacking, but had a good idea behind it – a great advisor will help you turn good ideas into a good paper). Plenty of people can run an OLS or DID regression in R/STATA/Python/Julia; the ideas are what matters, so just be curious about the world and ask questions. And finally, do not be afraid of failing. Filling out graduate school/job applications or trying out a new idea can be taxing, but you only need one place to recognize your worth! I know this firsthand – I received over 10 rejections this year when applying for research assistant positions and graduate schools.

As a final note, try not to take yourself too seriously – economics does not have to be a super serious field full of self-interested individuals. My favorite economics professors/mentors (Jeff, Qing Han) have shown me kindness rarely seen in academia. Don’t turn into Econs, there are good things about being Humans too!

 If you want to chat about anything, you can send me an email at brant-walker@uiowa.edu. I am always interested in talking to/working with other people, especially at the University of Iowa!”

Here is what Professor Jeffrey DeSimone, Brant’s mentor, had to say:

“Brant’s accomplishments, for which he graciously deflects credit, in fact wholly reflect his own initiative, curiosity, and work ethic, not to mention his unfailing respect and compassion toward others. I admire his conviction to principles, fearlessness in applying newly learned skills knowing that mistakes are inevitable, and self-awareness in integrating constructive criticism to rapidly improve those skills; mostly I am incredibly appreciative for the opportunity to work with him. A tangible benefit of our collaboration is papers that would not have otherwise existed, including one which was entirely his idea, but far more rewarding is that he has allowed me to share in his successes and feel like I made a positive difference. As Brant embarks on what will be an impactful career on many levels, I look forward to a long friendship and celebrating his many future achievements. “

Professor Sarah Frank had this to add:

“In my Behavioral Economics class, Brant and his team-mate Nick Grandstaff (Econ BBA19) completed an excellent project on the Hawkeye Meal Share Program, in which students can donate their ‘guest swipes’ at the end of the semester to students in need. They designed an experiment to study if an opt-out method would increase giving and mathematically modeled the decision to request free meals. Their approach was creative and generated a vigorous class discussion. It was very impressive work and I’m not surprised that both Brant and Nick have now received Fulbright awards.”