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By Christina Arthur
Like most of her peers in academia, Assistant Professor of Economics and Labor Economist Stefanie Fischer is engaged on multiple levels.
She spends part of her time conducting research and teaching a number of classes here at The Orfalea College of Business. She spends another portion of her time working as a Research Affiliate at the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, an organization based in Germany, which is focused on the future of labor research by supporting young scholars on their paths to becoming tomorrow’s leading academics.
Also like most professors, publishing her work is another area where she focuses her efforts. In that capacity, she has collaborated on several recent papers that have appeared in elite journals such as the Journal of Public Economics, Labour Economics, Economics of Education Review, and the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.
Fischer’s interest in the field of economics started when she was a math major as an undergrad at Linfield College in Oregon. She was always interested in the way people behaved so she also decided to take a few economics classes since—at its essence—economics is a field focused on studying how people choose to use resources and respond to incentives.
After graduation, she ended up working for a period of time and later decided to go to graduate school for economics. “It was a nice blend of my interests in the social sciences and my background in math,” she said.
In her role as an Assistant Professor of Economics at Orfalea, she teaches an Introductory Economics class to non-majors, an upper division under-grad course of Econometrics, and an elective of Advanced Labor Economics in the grad program, as well as advising these masters students in their capstone projects.
As a Research Affiliate for the IZA Institute, Fischer has been attending conferences in the U.S. and Europe. These symposiums bring together researchers from all over the world to share their work and collaborate. “One neat thing about this job is that I get to travel a ton,” she said. “I’ve been able to go to a lot of different countries, present my work, meet people, and see what they’re working on.”
IZA’s mission is to produce evidence-based policy decision-making and Fischer’s research ties directly in with this. In fact, for her, a significant motive in being a researcher is to provide compelling evidence to help shape public policy. “I produced enough papers in that area so they asked me to be a part of their network of researchers,” she said.
Her main area of interest is how these public policy decisions relate to human capital. “I think my work has important implications for addressing inequality, because human capital is an essential lever for economic mobility,” she said. “So that’s the bigger picture of why I got into it.”
Fischer recently collaborated with Orfalea Assistant Professor of Economics Corey White and Associate Professor of Economics at UC Santa Barbara Heather Royer on a paper titled “The Impacts of Reduced Access to Abortion and Family Planning Services on Abortions, Births, and Contraceptive Purchases,” which was referenced in the New York Times. This paper looks at the effects of changing access to both abortion services and non-abortion family planning services. “Our goal was to understand how reducing access to both types of clinics affected women in the state,” Fischer said.
They found that the reduction in access to abortion clinics resulted in many women traveling out of state to seek abortion services. In addition to this, another one of their findings was an increase in birth rates among the most highly affected women.
Fischer made it clear that while conducting the research and writing this paper, she and her colleauges were not taking a political or moral position regarding abortion, but instead sought to document the effects of this type of legislation. “This provides a benchmark for the rest of the states that are thinking about implementing similar policies and what might happen if they do so,” she said.
Fischer added that this was one of her favorite papers because it’s particularly timely and relevant to public policy. “I liked it because I feel like it has really helped the policy discussion on a topic that a lot of people care about,” she said. “I think that’s why the New York Times was interested.”
Fischer is currently working with the same team, Professors White and Royer, on another project related to this topic. This study looks at changes in access to obstetric care as many hospitals in rural America are closing at alarming rates. Their main focus is how the closures of these hospitals affect maternal and child health.
According to Fishcer, these obstetric units essentially provide services to pregnant women at the time of child birth, but also the period leading up to childbirth and the period directly following. “When these hospitals close,” she said, “these women have to travel father to get to these services and we want to know how that affects both their health, but also the health of the baby.”
Some of the findings they have already gathered from this research include discovering that women do in fact travel further to get to the nearest clinic, that these women are less likely to receive prenatal care, and that these factors could potentially be harmful for the child. One positive aspect that can come from this, however, is that some women may be going to higher quality hospitals as a result of closures.
How these conclusions may impact public policy in the future is up for debate—and ultimately up to the policy-makers themselves. In the meanwhile, Fischer plans to continue studying important aspects of societal and human behavior, working closely with her students in the College of Business, conducting research, and conveying it as objectively as possible to help shape the future.
“One goal that I have for all of my students is to be able to apply an economic framework to the evaluation of public policy,” she said. “With the ability to think independently and critically through an economic lens, I hope my students become better informed citizens.”
By Christina Arthur
Business student Anjana Melvin’s senior project, advised by Assistant Professors of Marketing Dr. T.J. Weber and Dr. Chris Hydock, was recently accepted to the American Marketing Association’s Marketing and Public Policy Conference to be presented this summer at Loyola Marymount University, a rare distinction for undergraduate work.
“I don’t think there’s many students that have stuff sent to academic conferences,” said Dr. Weber as he expressed how unique it is for Melvin’s project to have been accepted. “Even people in doctoral programs struggle to have material accepted.”
Melvin’s project is about brand perception and purchase intentions with political advertisements. “A lot of brands these days are kind of taking a stance on very big political ideas such as LGBTQ+ rights, feminism, and so on,” Melvin said.
As an example, she pointed to how Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign sparked a movement with its message of promoting natural beauty and the acceptance of all different body types, which made the soap manufacturer billions of dollars. “I think a lot of companies since then have tried to follow suit and see if changing their advertising style would get them more revenue,” she said.
Melvin was interested in seeing why certain ads do well while others don’t. For her project, she focused specifically on the controversial Colin Kaepernick Nike ad through a sentiment analysis to see what consumers on Twitter thought about the content. She found that negative perception of Nike had gone up, which was interesting to her because the ad itself did very well, as Nike’s revenue went up substantially after it ran. “It’s kind of interesting to see how perception on social media is different and how it translates into purchase intentions, but obviously we can’t measure that through sentiment analysis,” she said.
Melvin’s concentration is quantitative analysis, even though this project had a lot to do with marketing. “I’m not a marketing major, but I’ve always been driven by creative stuff and I love anything creative,” she said. “I also like the data-driven side of it, so that’s why I chose to pursue something like this.”
Melvin went with this topic because one of her biggest passions is seeing how huge companies can make a major change through advertising. “The Nike ad was probably one of the best ads of all time, so it’s cool to see the difference it made.”
Melvin said the biggest challenge of working on this project was using Orange, the data mining software. “Orange is a fairly new software, and they keep continuously changing things on us so it was a little hard to get everything to go as we expected with that.”
Weber said that being an advisor for the project worked out great because his dissertation was on how consumers respond to companies taking political stances, which meant he had experience with collecting primary data on this topic. He and Dr. Chris Hydock also worked together on a paper on this subject that was published in the academic journal Customer Needs and Solutions last year, and they have more work on the way. “It was a natural fit considering it’s very similar to what my research was and I already understand the topic area,” he said.
Weber added that Melvin is a hard worker, so the process of conducting the project wasn’t very difficult. “She understands the material and learned the program in class,” he said. “It was just a matter of walking her through and working together on doing the analysis on an academic level.”
He also explained how this will be greatly beneficial for Melvin’s future and an outstanding item she can add to her resume. “Regardless of where she goes, I think that it will serve her well to have the unique experience where she can show that she can do things at a higher level.”
Melvin revealed that one of the most rewarding parts about this project is that it helped her realize the personal growth she has achieved over the past couple of years with using and understanding data. “I was never a data person,” she said, “but I know that working in business, especially with marketing now, understanding the analytics of things is really important.”
Melvin hopes that this project will make an impact by getting people more interested in the research side of marketing. “There is obviously a huge demand for creative marketing within the industry, such as content marketing,” she said, “but I think having that data aspect to it is a fairly new thing in the industry, so I hope this project does generate some interest in seeing what you can do with numbers within the marketing field.”
Photo by Andy Sherar
By Christina Arthur
The Orfalea College of Business currently has a graduation rate of 79 percent, the highest in the CSU system. Orfalea Assistant Dean for Student Success Amy Carter revealed this rate has hasn’t always been this high. There has been an upward momentum in OCOB’s graduation rates over the last ten years and she cited several different reasons for this.
“I think a huge part of it comes from the resources we dedicate to support and enhance student success,” Carter said.
One resource she noted was the development of student services, especially over the last ten years, an office that includes tutoring, mentoring, an internal career readiness center, and a Multicultural Business Program.
According to Carter, in 2005, the college began its peer advising model and saw grad rates jump up almost 10 percent over the course of four years. “Peer advisors allow us to free up our professional advisors to do more developmental counseling and targeted outreach to students who may be falling behind or need additional support to get connected to campus resources,” Carter said.
The college has staffed 25 peer advisors, which Carter said is one of the largest peer advising models she has ever seen. “I haven’t actually seen another model on another campus that mirrors the scale at which we’re employing our advisors,” she added.
OCOB also has more than 150 peer leaders in student services, who work as advisors, mentors, Multicultural Business Program interns, or ambassadors. A large part of their job is focused on proactive outreach to students and providing support as required. They even check in with older students before they graduate, to advise them on exactly what they may still need to keep in mind academically, or even socially, as their time at Cal Poly winds down. “This is so that students are not in a position of graduating and forgetting that they have missed a couple of free elective units or whatever it may be,” Carter added.
This not only helps the students, but it gives the peer leaders a valuable experience as well. “Through this, peer leaders have the ability to utilize leadership experience in college that will help them get jobs and give them a sense of purpose,” Carter added. “I’m proud of all the programs and services we have been able to provide for students.”
Beyond these initiatives, the College of Business has additionally developed courses to ensure students are on the right track. All freshmen are enrolled into Business 100: Student Orientation and College Success in their fall quarter. “Within that class, we educate them about how to be a student and transition into college,” Carter said. “And they build out a four-year plan based around what they might want to pursue as a concentration, including options for their minors. Basically they walk away from their first quarter of college knowing exactly which courses they plan to take from when they start, all the way until graduation.”
A follow-up class, Business 206: Business Professionalism and Career Readiness, makes sure to continue the trajectory, encouraging students to think about foundational career pieces like resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and internships. “It’s also a place where we encourage them to explore where their values are, and how they want to build out their leadership skills,” Carter said.
With career readiness being OCOB’s mission, these initiatives are designed specifically to prepare students for graduation and post-grad careers. “We try to get as much data as we can around where students are going once they graduate,” Carter said. “And we have an 85 percent knowledge rate of where our graduates are going.”
Along with this, the college has put a priority on getting their students as connected to industries as possible, which has positively impacted job placement rates for graduates. “At OCOB, our students have a 94 percent job placement rate within three months of graduation,” Carter explained. “That means nearly every student in the college receives their diploma, walks out our doors, and immediately lands in either their professional field or in a graduate program.”