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Ready for the Next Adventure As she prepares to work for the Equality of Opportunity Project, Amanda Wahlers '18 is grateful for the education, opportunities and research experience she has had in Lexington.

Amanda Wahlers ’18

“Working as a member of the Equality of Opportunity team, which is directed by economists Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and John Friedman, is an invaluable opportunity for me to expand my technical skills and understanding of economic research prior to pursuing a Ph.D in economics.”

Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Major: Economics
Minor: Mathematics

It wasn’t until my sophomore year at W&L that I took my first economics course. The first hundred times I was asked “What are you majoring in?” upon coming to college, I got flustered and responded that I wanted to major in biology and Spanish. After all, I had loved AP biology in high school and, as a Phoenix native, had always aspired to become fluent in Spanish. Yet on the first day of my sophomore year (with Fundamentals of Biology, Gen Chem, three Spanish courses, and a summer spent in Madrid under my belt), I hesitantly edged into Professor Katharine Shester’s Principles of Microeconomics class.

As I sat in the front row of an introductory micro class dominated by freshman boys, Professor Shester’s engaging lectures drew me into a world of academic thought that I never wanted to leave. A month into the semester, I gathered the courage to ask Professor Shester about research opportunities in W&L’s Economics Department. Within a week she took me on as her research assistant. At that point, I had maybe six weeks’ worth of introductory economic knowledge and had never even heard of Stata, a statistical software package many economists use to conduct research. Still, Professor Shester took the time to explain economic concepts and introduce me to the realm of economic research with simple data tasks.

I spent the summer after my sophomore year in Lexington working as one of two economics research assistants to Professor Shester and Professor Chris Handy. John Juneau ’18 and I spent 30 hours a week meeting with them and working on research assignments for a number of projects. They gave us tasks throughout the summer that challenged us and allowed us to cultivate valuable technical skills.

I worked as a research assistant throughout my junior year, and professors Shester and Handy continued to support my development and aspirations. They helped me compose a resume and mock-interviewed me throughout the process of securing an internship at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for the summer after my junior year. My work with Professor Shester and Professor Handy prepared me to assist with research in the Capital Markets group at the New York Fed, where I studied primary dealers’ positions and trading activity in U.S. Treasury securities.

Now, I have less than two months left as a student at W&L, and I am extremely grateful for the education, opportunities and research experience I have been afforded as an undergraduate. My time at W&L ultimately prepared me with the knowledge, experience and skills to compete with nearly 600 applicants for a handful of positions with the Equality of Opportunity Project, where I will begin a full-time position as a pre-doctoral fellow this summer. Working as a member of the Equality of Opportunity team, which is directed by economists Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and John Friedman, is an invaluable opportunity for me to expand my technical skills and understanding of economic research prior to pursuing a Ph.D in economics. My undergraduate education at W&L has given me a wealth of opportunities to pursue my passion for economic research and I count myself very blessed to have received it.

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A little more about Amanda

Why did you choose your major?
From the first class I took in the department, economics clicked with the way that I think. I immediately saw how the discipline could be a valuable tool in answering really important questions. I originally picked up my math minor because math is an integral component of economic research, but I came to love how mathematics courses taught me to think creatively about problems.
Has anyone on campus inspired you?
Many of my professors have gone above and beyond throughout my time at W&L, but Professor Katharine Shester and Professor Chris Handy have especially inspired me through their kindheartedness, wisdom and dedication to helping their students learn and grow. I definitely look up to both of them as role models.
What’s your personal motto?
From Hellen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
Best place to eat in Lexington? What do you order?
Napa Thai – chicken pad Thai
Favorite class:
An impossible question – Principles of Microeconomics with Professor Shester, Advanced Labor Economics with Professor Handy, Comparative Institutional Economics with Professor Grajzl, and Real Analysis with Professor Dresden have been some highlights!
Favorite W&L event:
ADPi’s and Bowties – My sorority’s spring formal where there is a live band and swing-dancing out near Liberty Hall ruins.
What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you?
I love cartoons – “Phineas and Ferb” is my current go-to.