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.”
Shaping future economists requires all of us.
Our alumni are vastly important to everything we do. Your support helps fund a variety of activities for the Economics Department. Some include:
- Providing financial support for students-with-need to participate in the Economics Society’s annual trips, which have recently included visits to the San Francisco Federal Reserve and to Disneyland for a collaborative research project.
- Funding for our faculty-student mentorship program, where students work as research assistants and receive mentoring from faculty about the research process and future career paths.
- Offering research support for faculty and students, including funding for travel to academic conferences, data collection, and computing needs.
- Hosting a seminar series, in which professors from other universities present their research and meet with our faculty and students to discuss exciting ideas in economics.
If you’re interested in giving to Cal Poly, please consider designating your gift to the Economics Department of the Orfalea College of Business. A link to donate online can be found here.
Thank you for your support!
A Q&A with Professor Stefanie Fischer
By Eduardo Zambrano | MS Quantitative Economics Program
This fall, I sat down with Professor Stefanie Fischer, who obtained a Ph.D. in Economics from UCSB in 2015 and has been an Assistant Professor of Economics at Cal Poly since. She teaches Introductory Economics, Labor Economics, and Econometrics. As we spoke, we covered her research, which studies peer dynamics in economically motivated scenarios. We also discussed civic engagement, data analysis, and how empirical research with a focus on inequality can have a real-world impact. Read on for more.
EZ: I see that your paper, “Coordination and Contagion: Individual Connections and Peer Mechanisms in a Randomized Field Experiment,” was just accepted at the Journal of Public Economics. Congratulations! Can you tell us what it’s about?
SF: Thank you! Yes, so to provide some context for the paper: for quite some time, economists and other social scientists have been interested in understanding how one’s peers influence economically meaningful outcomes. This paper makes a technical contribution to the peer effects literature which, to the best of our knowledge, had not been previously identified.
What we do is estimate spillovers (peer effects) between a treated individual and another treated individual, where the previous literature has only been able to estimate spillovers that arise between treated and control groups. Our approach allows us to isolate each spillover separately.
There are many settings in which there may be no spillovers present between treated and control individuals, but where there might be between the treated.
For example, safety net programs (i.e., SNAP or Head Start) are often concentrated among lower income individuals. And if lower income households are mostly interacting with other low-income households who are also recipients of such benefits, we may miss important spillovers if we don’t consider those that arise between the recipients of the benefits (the treated).
So in this paper we run a field experiment in a large university dorm where we financially incentivize a random subset of individuals to go to the university gym. In the first stage, we elicit the friend network so we know how every person is connected and to what degree. In the second stage, we randomly assign the treatment to 60 percent of the subjects. The treated subjects were told that if they visited the gym eight or more times in the 30-day period they would earn $60.
The randomization of the treatment serves two purposes: First, it induces random variation in exposure to the treatment, identifying the direct effects—that is, the effect that operates through the private incentive. Secondly, it induces random variation in exposure to treated and untreated peers, which allows us to estimate the spillover effects. Crucially, we can estimate the effect of having a treated best friend on control and treated subjects.
We find that the financial incentive, not including any spillovers, increased gym visits by about four, if you’re treated with a control best friend. We find however, that if you’re treated with a treated best friend, you visit the gym one additional time. Another way to say that is that the spillover between treated and treated is 25 percent of the direct effect of the treatment. Interestingly, we detect no spillovers between treated best friends and control subjects. It is worth noting that the observed peer effect, a spillover from treated subjects to treated subjects, would not have been identified by a standard approach, where only spillovers from treated to control are identified.
So you might wonder what is the mechanism underlying this spillover? We consider three common mechanisms put forth in the peer effects literature: The first is coordination. The second is imitation/conformity. And the third is information.
We find strong evidence in favor of coordination, where coordination may include a commitment mechanism or complementarities. Specifically, we find that subjects with treated best friends make, on average, one more simultaneous visit with their best friend than their counterpart. This suggests that the entire spillover is operating through this coordination channel.
EZ: So what’s next?
SF: While this paper is finally complete, we also have a follow-on project. We implement a similar field experiment as the gym experiment, but we incentivize students to register to vote, and then to vote. Our goal with this project is to understand the role of peer effects in civic engagement. One thing that is neat is that we have merged the experiment data with the universe of California administrative voting records. We’re still working on analyzing the results of the experiment. Stay tuned for a draft soon!
EZ: On your website you state that your research employs quasi-experimental techniques and field experiments to address policy-relevant empirical questions with a focus on inequality. How do you see the empirical tools you use in your research being of value to economists working in different capacities in companies, the government, and NGOs?
SF: The tools I use in my research are widely applicable. I use various research designs, whichever one is best for the question I am trying to answer, with the general goal of nailing down a causal relationship. I think a well-executed causal analysis is valuable in lots of contexts.
EZ: At Cal Poly you teach Econometrics and Labor Economics. In what ways is teaching these courses useful for the kind of research that you do, and in what ways the research that you do is useful for teaching these courses?
SF: Teaching Graduate Labor Economics has been useful for my own research. It helps me stay current. I often assign new papers or working papers that I want to read, which are also relevant to the course material. Sometimes through this I get new ideas for projects. I also gain a better grasp of the literature and methods that are on the cutting edge of my field (Labor Economics).
Teaching introductory undergrad econometrics is fun. I love when students have that moment in class when they realize what a useful tool applied econometrics can be!
EZ: Anything else you would like to tell us?
SF: Thanks for your interest in my work!
Award-winning student, who’s studying the impacts of social media on mental health.
Jack Keefer is last year’s winner of the annual Excellence in Economics Award, presented to our top graduating senior in the Orfalea College of Business Economics Department. He earned his B.S. in Economics this past spring and is currently enrolled in the M.S. Quantitative Economics program at Cal Poly.
Jack’s senior project was selected as the Outstanding Senior Project in his class. For the undertaking, Jack surveyed students at a California high school about their feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as numerous other aspects of their lifestyle. He found that greater social media use led to higher levels of anxiety.
“The subject is important because social media is such a big part of students’ lives now, much more so now than even five years ago when I was a high school student. It’s a growing problem that anecdotally affects many students, but I found there was very little research on the topic, and I thought I had the ability to do better than what had already been done. Social media causes people to compare themselves to an ‘ideal’ that they can’t possibly live up to, and even though most people know that, it’s good to have data to back it up so it’s not just a hunch that we all have.”
He is following up his senior project with a randomized experiment across multiple high schools to further test whether social media use contributes to feelings of anxiety and depression. He hopes to submit his findings for publication in an economics journal. Jack is also currently applying to Ph.D. programs in Economics to begin the next academic year.
“I would like to stay in academia and get a position as a tenure-track professor doing research. My interest is in labor economics with a secondary application in econometrics. I like the collection and processing of data, and labor economics is an important field with future issues related to automation and the changing labor market.”
Good luck in your future studies, Jack!