Two IUP Cook Honors College students, Mitchell DeRubis, a junior Economics/Mathematics major, and Christian Minich, a senior Economics and Philosophy double major, won Best Undergraduate Paper at the Pennsylvania Economic Association’s annual conference.
Their paper, entitled “Access to Formal Credit and Rural Economic Development: An Examination of Prevailing Assumptions in the Land Rental Market of Rural India,” studied the relationship of access to credit from the formal banking sector and how that impacted the decisions the farmers made about their farm’s productivity. “The basic assumption we were evaluating with the data is whether or not farmers who do not have access to credit from banks use that credit to improve their farm—basically, how access to credit affects a farmer’s behavior,” said Minich about their research. They found that, contrary to the generally true assumption, a farmer’s access to credit did not explain the production decisions he made.
DeRubis and Minich worked on the project together in an advanced economic research class called Advanced Econometrics. The project was daunting, and it was up to the two of them to frame the question, find the data, structure the data, and understand the statistical methods that would help them to make sense of their data. The project cost them many hours. “Advanced Econometrics was my favorite class at IUP. I enjoyed the freedom and creativity that doing independent research allows. There were many times I felt like giving up, but diligence does tend to pay off,” DeRubis said.
Paid off indeed. Christian presented the paper at the Pennsylvania Economic Association’s annual conference in June 2011 at Dickinson College, and their paper was awarded the Best Undergraduate Paper distinction. That distinction was more than merely a thumbs-up to the authors; the paper will be published in the Fall edition of the Pennsylvania Economic Review, a peer-reviewed economics journal. “Having a paper published as an undergraduate gave me renewed confidence in my academic plans, and I believe it will help me distinguish myself from other similarly qualified candidates during the graduate school admissions process,” DeRubis said.
Conducting independent research is not merely a resume builder, however. It built the confidence of the two that research was not an activity that only Ph.D.s can accomplish. Both DeRubis and Minich are grateful for the opportunity they had to do the research, as well as present at a conference and have a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal. In thinking about the experience, DeRubis said, “I believe that doing undergraduate research is beneficial for any student, whether they plan on entering the workforce or continuing in their education.” Minich continues, “And that’s something that the professors are there to help you with. Dr. J. helped us so many times, keeping us on task, answering our questions, and fostering us to make the project our own and discover the solutions for ourselves. I can’t say enough about the difference he, and other professors here at IUP, have made on my ability to think and accomplish substantive achievements such as this paper.”
The accomplishments of these two are not limited to this paper. Mitch was unable to attend the conference because he was leaving for Georgetown to begin a program with the Fund for American Studies. The program consisted of a thirty-two hour per week internship at the U.S. Small Business Institute and three economics and political science classes at Georgetown University. “My experience was remarkable and one I will not soon forget. My Economics professor, Ben Powell, was a regular guest commentator on Fox News and a prolific researcher. My internship seminar instructor, Karen Czarnecki, has spent years working in the federal government and is currently chief of staff for Pennsylvania Representative Mike Kelly,” DeRubis said. His most memorable experiences, though, did not come from the classroom, but “with my newly acquired friends from France, Argentina, Iraq, Bahrain, Panama, Lebanon, and all over the world.”
Christian, on the other hand, traveled throughout Turkey and Cyprus the summer after his freshman year, visiting archeological sites and observing modern culture, with an eye to understanding how cultures choose to construct themselves and what from the history of the geographic area they choose to make part of their own. “It was striking to me, especially in Turkey. Turkey is religiously Muslim, though they have an officially secular state. It was fascinating walking around all these Greek, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Hittite ruins and realizing that the people who were living in Turkey now did not consider most of those peoples as part of their cultural identity,” Minich said. Also on the trip, he was able to observe the transmission of cultural ideas from one people to the next, whether intentionally or passively. The following summer, Christian worked at McLagan, a financial services consulting firm in Stamford, Conn. “At McLagan, I learned how important attention to detail when working with large amounts of data is, and how much work it takes to have data that is reliable,” Minich said.