Jeff Wagner is excited to find innovative ways to further customize undergraduate education. His plan to cultivate economics research opportunities for students is enabling them to explore topics beyond the texts, in a custom manner.
Each academic year, Wagner, a professor of economics, and his colleagues in RIT’s College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Economics actively identify interested economics students—many in their first year—and give them opportunities to conduct weighty research, get published in peer-reviewed journals and attend regional conferences. These are all noteworthy accomplishments for fledgling RIT students who may still be on the fence as to whether a career in economics lies within their destiny. According to Wagner, a significant problem is that not enough universities actively engage undergraduate students in academic research.
“It’s essential that the United States continues to develop students with strong research skills, so they will be ready to participate in hot fields such as environmental sustainability and economics of the law,” Wagner said. “It’s our duty as university professionals to provide our students—starting with those in their first year—with a custom education that gives them professional direction when it comes to economics research, as well as the capabilities to tackle real-world economic dilemmas.”
Wagner’s plan begins with targeting students with an aptitude for economics research at the beginning of their academic careers.
“If you keep your eye on the prize early enough and find first-year students who think that a career in economics might be for them, this quickly becomes a win-win for the students and faculty involved,” Wagner said. “Our students benefit from learning how to conduct research, from asking the right questions to working their way through finding the answers. From the faculty point of view, instructors want and need to publish research papers, and they also love the essentials of teaching the research craft.”
Amelia Rickard, a third-year economics student from Webster, N.Y., is working with Wagner on sustainable waste management research with the end goal of being a published author before she graduates next May.
“The collaboration with Professor Wagner will definitely have an impact as I continue in the field of economics after graduation, and I definitely expect to use the analytical skills I’m developing here in a career that values those skills.”
Beyond the opportunity to earn academic credits for their work, according to Wagner, student researchers join faculty in a labor of love. “Once they find topics they are interested in, they learn to have tenacity and patience, and develop a real fever for it.”