Tuesday, July 11, 2017

LAKES REU Alumni Updates!

Each summer we ask LAKES REU students from years past to update us on what they're doing.  I gave them short notice this year, but even so we were able to hear back from many of them!  Want to know who's working for the Department of Transportation in D.C.?  How about who just started a job at Stanford University?  Or who just spent a year working in Nigeria?  Or who is starting her doctoral program in the fall?  Read on for these reports and much more!

Alexis Econie

The LAKES REU was not only one of the most salient academic experiences of my career so far, but the program also gave me the best summer I ever could have dreamed of.  Last year, I “worked” a job that felt like a hobby, made friendships that I’m confident will last a lifetime, and got to relish in the unadulterated glory that is Wisconsin.  So, to answer the “where are they now?” question: I’m wishing I was in Harvey Hall, choking down blood-water coffee, marveling at Chris and Helena’s STATA wizardry, and checking Nels’ mailbox for survey responses multiple times a day.  
See also: “Erving Goffman was a jerk,” “probably the Tarsus Club,” “the ‘one-arm chuck’,” and “wao, teh corn belt.” 1

Since making my return to Illinois, I have presented research at six academic conferences, have/am co-authored/ing three research articles, graduated with a B.S. in Sociology and Communication Studies, consumed at least seventy-nine billion cups of coffee, and have bored all of my friends and family members with my talk of how much I loved the LAKES REU and how much I miss my Lakes Fam.

Nostalgia aside, in three weeks I’ll move to Knoxville, Tennessee to serve in a year-long position as the Data Analysis Coordinator for the Department of Sustainability at the University of Tennessee position through an AmeriCorps program.  During my term of service, I hope to gain more environmental field experience, and I plan to apply PhD programs for sociology, with the intent of committing to and beginning a graduate program in the fall of 2018.  
I am also currently in search of a coffee shop that comes at least within two standard deviations of being as good as The Raw Deal—so far, to no avail. 2

Until then (and probably far after, if I’m being honest), I’ll be creeping the LAKES social media pages, muttering “CURDS, CURDS, CURDS” to myself every time I see or hear mention of fried cheese, taking videos of lightening for Rene/the Lakes Fam group every time I spot a thunderstorm, and eagerly awaiting our next reunion.

1.   For a full review of nostalgia and quote references, see "'LAKES 2016’ slideshow” or contact the first author on some social media, yo.
2. But I’ve heard there’s this new Catfe in town….

Helena Pedrotti

It’s been a little over a year since I was in Menomonie and I miss everyone terribly! Since I left I graduated from Reed College with a degree in Mathematics and Economics, was awarded the Meier Award for economics by my department, went to two conferences with Chris and LAKES, spent a month traveling around Europe, and have been lucky enough to be offered a fellowship at Stanford! I’m going to spend the next two years working with Stanford faculty on their research and taking graduate level classes in economics. I’ve only just started as a research fellow with Stanford GSB but I can already tell that the skills I learned and experiences I had at LAKES will be enormously useful. After this program, I hope to continue on to graduate school in economics. I miss everyone and hope that someday soon I’ll be back in Menomonie to get coffee at the Raw Deal and check out the new cat café!

Erin Melly

Here’s a picture of me in New York from a few weeks ago that Caitlin took when she came to visit.
Once Nels had emailed us asking for alumni blogs and the reality had hit me that it has truly been a year since LAKES, I kept procrastinating writing this blog. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I knew I have too much to say, and it seemed easier just say nothing at all then try to scribble down some incoherent and semi-insightful sentences that only partially capture what the LAKES experience has meant to me and how my life has changed because of it. So below is a best-attempt at narrating the different ways in which my life has changed since I left Menomonie.

COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL: This summer, I am working at Columbia Business School as part of their Summer Research Internship Program. Without a doubt, I would not have gotten this position without the skills I learned last summer, the work experience I gained, the letter of recommendation Chris Ferguson wrote on my behalf (that I feel as if I largely did not deserve- so thank you again Chris) and most importantly, the passion and desire to push myself that I learned in Menomonie. Though I attend Columbia University, which is often seen as “elite” or “difficult” or “impressive” or whatever cliché and exaggerated word you would like to use for it, the truth is there that the intelligence and prestige of my peers here often makes me feel rather inadequate. I am an average student, putting in an honest effort to get satisfying, but objectively modest, academic results. I will never know exactly what Chris saw in me- I had no work experience, no exceptional grades, not even a conniving recommendation letter- but I thank my lucky stars that he took a chance and decided to work with me. This REU opened the door to endless possibilities in my academic future. It made me realize I love research, that I could apply academic principles and economic models to make a difference in the world. I am certain that my application would not have been selected as one of the 17 out of the 1,000 that were received by Columbia Business School had it not been for the uniqueness of LAKES and all that it gave me. This summer I am working in the Management division of the Business School, on a project under the guidance of Professor Vanessa Burbano. We are examining the effects of CEO activism on employee productivity. Specifically, we aim to see how an executive’s decision to release a statement either in favor or against President Trump’s climate change policy affects the willingness of the employees to work for the company. I have a lot of autonomy on the project, as I directly analyze results, make suggestions about the experiments directly to Professor Burbano and hopefully will be able to co-author a paper on our findings by the end of this project. It is intellectually challenging and at times frustrating but also rewarding and wonderful and I am one hundred percent certain that I am able to handle it because of last summer.

THE PHD: Because of last summer, I not only switched my studies of Economics to be my main major (rather than a concentration, as it had been less than a year ago), but I am dancing with the idea of pursuing a PhD in Economics. I admit, this isn’t certain and I will still take a gap year or two to research before attending, but the fact that I am considering the idea of five more years of schooling is quite serious. And the dance is not just a polite walt; Econ grad school and I are currently in a very intimate tango. I am studying for the GRE, taking linear algebra to boost my math background, researching schools and secretly praying I can pull it all off. I’m nervous it will be too hard, too ambitious, that I won’t get in anywhere. But again, I gained a sense of confidence and drive from LAKES that assures me that I am smart enough and hard-working enough to get what I want in life. My work in Menomonie taught me that research (and life for that matter) will not be easy, but it will be capable of doing it- and more importantly, worth doing.

THE PEOPLE: The last, and without a doubt the most significant thing, that LAKES gave me is friendship. I met individuals at LAKES whom I respect beyond compare, remember fondly, love deeply and cherish their existence in my life deeper than I can write here. These people are the most kind, hilarious, dedicated, brilliant and selfless people to walk this planet—and I include the mentors in this. It was an honor to work with them and it is an even greater honor to still talk to them each week, to be able to watch them grow and move on to great things (even if I do so from afar, as we all occupy our own corners of this country) and to call them my friends. I brag to my New York friends that Helena is working for Stanford, that Rene got a job upon graduation, that Allison is going to Math graduate school, that Caitlin works for the Department of Transportation, that Alexis was on the highest scholarship possible and gave the graduation speech out of a school of over 50,000 students. I wear their accomplishments on my sleeve, as if to prove to the world that these amazing people are my friends- how lucky am I! And since an invisible sleeve of their accomplishments wasn’t enough, I got a matching tattoo with 8 of them when we reunited for a research conference this past spring. It sounds crazy that I got a tattoo with people I only worked with for two months and have only known a year at this point. But I guess that absurdity is the closest I can get to explaining how incredible and dear to my heart Menomonie, LAKES and this program were. Every time I pass people running in Central Park, I know they see my Red Cedar tattoo on my back, and I show if off proudly. As if to shout to the world about how happy I am, how lucky, how grateful.

In regards to everything else, I am still running an absurd number of miles, in denial that I am actually a senior at Columbia, drinking unhealthy amounts of coffee, laughing at everything, talking too loudly and cringing at Trump and Brexit and this crazy world we live in, but nonetheless trying to make some little part of it better. I wish the absolute best of luck to this year’s batch of LAKES interns. Cherish it, work hard, drink as much Raw Deal coffee as possible, be inspired, ask questions, have fun. But just don’t get tattoos- that’s our thing.

Laura Donovan

A few weeks ago I ran into the new LAKES REU crew on campus. It was exciting to see them all and think about the potential they have this summer. It was also very odd for me to realize that a year had already passed since I was in their shoes and met all my research buddies, and that I'm that much closer to graduating. After the REU ended last summer (except let's be real, when you get tattoos with some of your research buddies, does it really end?), I rolled into a school year full of student government, where I worked with Gunther (also a LAKES alum!) and other student leaders to advocate for social and environmental justice. It was much easier said than done. I gratefully handed off the baton and jumped back into organizing with various groups, including the Wisconsin Youth Network, Seize the Grid, and Sunrise, which are all focused on social and environmental issues. I'm excited to be working with these people, and to see what we can accomplish together! Along with that, I'm working at UW-Stout's Sustainability Office, working on a research project, trying to figure out what happens after undergrad, and also trying to make the most of summer here in Menomonie. 

Matt Flyr

I’m enjoying a relaxing summer after a tough first year in Colorado State’s ag+resource economics masters program! I’ve spent most of my summer hiking in the Rockies, camping, playing with my dog, traveling, going to soccer games, climbing (an activity I discovered while at LAKES, everyone should check out that rock wall), reading, and running. Unfortunately, my summer funding has kicked in, so I’m back to work for the rest of the summer. Although I’m in a resource economics program, I’m no longer focusing on water quality issues like I did as an undergrad. My work now looks at how the opening of a medical/recreational marijuana dispensary impacts nearby crime rates and home values (any LAKES people doing hedonic pricing? The home value project is a difference in difference hedonic analysis). Very few people have looked at these relationships, so it’s exciting work! Especially now, when medical/recreation marijuana laws have been in the news thanks to Attorney General Sessions. For my summer funding, I’m working with the local utility to help them understand their commercial users. And that’s pretty much it! One more semester of classes left, plus however long it takes me to wrap up my thesis, then me and my dog will be out into the real world. On that note, if anyone knows of any job openings coming up, let me know. 

Caitlin Delaney

Hi all, I hope everything’s going well in Menomonie this summer! I worked under the brilliant Chris Ferguson last summer with Helena and Erin. Shortly after I returned from Menomonie, I left Connecticut again for a semester abroad in Sweden. I can definitely say that my summer in Menomonie helped me with my semester in Sweden, as weird as that may sound. I went from high school to my state university, and while it was definitely a change, it was still not a huge step outside my comfort zone. However, going to Menomonie for the summer and bonding with a great group of interns really helped me get out of my comfort zone and work on meeting new people from all over the US. This experience helped prepare me for my semester in Sweden where I met amazing friends from all over the world.

This summer, I’m in Washington D.C. working for the Department of Transportation. It’s definitely different from last summer’s research gig – I’m working in an office 9 to 5 and there’s not as much flexibility, but the work-life balance is still really great here. The DOT has put all of the interns up in an apartment together, so it’s kind of similar to the set-up we had last year in Menomonie. The main difference is we all take the Metro to work instead of having handy bikes like we were given last summer. As a geography and economics major, the environment with the DOT internship has been amazing – transportation and its impact on communities has always been fascinating to me, and being surrounded by a bunch of other transportation nerds who love to take train videos as much as I do has been a really fun experience. In case anyone is also interested in transportation and has a summer of interning left I’ll put a shameless plug out for the program – the Summer Transportation Internship Program for Diverse Groups (STIPDG). It’s definitely a different work environment than the LAKES program, but it’s an interesting look into federal work and a good opportunity to live in D.C. with housing provided. Shameless plug aside, there’s no doubt that the LAKES REU program helped me land the internship and helped to shape me as a person. I’ll always be grateful for the time in Menomonie and how it affected my life.

One of the things I’m most grateful for is the people I met through the program. I urge the current interns not to take for granted how great the mentors are. Reflecting back on the program, the experience was made by how great all the mentors were to us (special shout out to Chris, I miss talking every morning about the news and bonding over The Office together). And of course, the summer wouldn’t have been the same without all of the other interns I can now happily call my friends. I’m glad I was able to experience LAKES to not only grow personally and professionally, but to also be able to meet such a wonderful group of people.

Picture included below of some DOT interns and D.C. friends (yes that’s a geofilter, no shame in the snapchat game).

Eniola Afolayan

After graduating in 2016, I spent the last year in Nigeria participating in the National Youth Service Corps, a service corps program similar to Americorps, where I worked for the National Commission for Museums and Monuments Osogbo which oversees one of the only two world heritage sites in Nigeria--the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove. I returned last month and I am currently preparing for GREs and grad school applications for next year.

Congrats on the extention. I'm so happy to have been part of such a prestigious research experience and miss you guys dearly! 
Rene Torres

Since last summer I have since finished school and got my B.A. in Geography emphasis on GIS. I also got a minor in Sustainability. I landed a fulltime job about a month before graduation and began working 9 days after graduation on June 1st. My job as a GIS technician involves moving around and I'm currently in San Rafael California (Bay Area).

Madison Brantley

Since completing the LAKES REU this past August, I finished my last semester at Auburn University with a B.A. in Anthropology. After much exhaustion and caffeine, I decided to take some time off from school before thinking about grad programs. Instead, I got a job working for the Mississippi State Department of Health, where I manage and order vaccines for the state health departments. While not something that ties directly to my experience at LAKES, having the knowledge and background of ethnography and anthropology has definitely helped me see the components I deal with as qualitative. I know that this is a skill that I will use in every job I have in my lifetime, and that is something I am very grateful for. That is something LAKES provides-not to mention the friendships that continue as well! I hope all the LAKES students get all the enjoyment  that I got, it is truly something special. Keep up the good work!

Clare Salerno

As summer rolls around once again, I can't say how many times I've thought to myself "It would be so nice to be in Menomonie right now!" Seriously. And I am lucky enough to be spending the summer in Chicago working at The Field Museum. Don't get me wrong, I'm really enjoying myself but I do miss the friendly faces, research, and beautiful landscape from last summer. I was on the Sociology team with Alexis and working with Nels, so about this time last year we were starting to get some of our surveys back and calling up folks around the county for interviews!

I've had a really enjoyable year since I left Menomonie. Probably most exciting is that I got to study abroad last semester in Dakar, Senegal. Senegal is in West Africa, and the city of Dakar is on a little peninsula that is actually the farthest west point on the continent. I got to put my French skills to good use and learn Wolof, one of the main languages spoken there. And I got to use some of the survey and statistics skills from last summer since we did a few surveys in neighborhoods and villages about public health and environmental problems. Living in Senegal and taking classes on these topics really drove home some key ideas about climate change and environmental justice that I've learned about in the past year. Senegal is one of the world's poorest countries and seeing how sea level rise is wreaking havoc coastal communities that get their livelihood from the ocean as well as how the yearly floods continually decimate the poorest neighborhoods made the fact that poor people and people of color across the globe suffer disproportionate effects of climate change abundantly clear. I'm really thankful to have had the opportunity on the LAKES project to explore and understand climate-related issues and to continue doing that this summer at The Field Museum.  

I got home from Senegal in May and had less than two weeks at home in Vermont before heading out to Chicago. At the museum, I work in the exhibition development department. We work on developing the content, big ideas, and stories within each exhibition. This involves working in conjunction with designers and curators (the real experts that work in the museum) to develop exhibits. One project I've been working a lot on is an upcoming exhibit on Antarctic Dinosaurs, which opens next summer. Turns out almost everything found on Antarctica, be it dinosaurs, other fossils, ancient pollen grains, or ice cores is used in climate research. A lot of what I do involves researching these kinds of things for the developers so they can better figure out what to put into the exhibit and how it fits in with the broader story being told me the show. So even though this show seems like it's about dinosaurs, a lot of it is really about climate change and it's cool that I get to be part of such a big public education initiative on such an important issue. 

I'll finish up here in August and head back to Wellesley for my senior year. I'm hoping to be able to present some of the LAKES research from last summer that Nels and Alexis wrote up at the ASA conference in August in Montreal. I was really bummed that I had to miss out on the NCUR conference that everyone else went to in April, but I was also lucky enough to be able to present my poster last October at the NSF headquarters in Arlington VA. And even though I missed the NCUR reunion, Caitlin and Erin came to visit me in Vermont in January (see the picture above!) and Alexis came to Chicago a few weeks ago. It was so great to hang out and reconnect with them, and hopefully I can see the rest of the group sometime soon as well!

Allison Frideres

I graduated this year from Simpson College with a BA in Mathematics and minors in Computer Science and Psychology. I graduated Summa Cum Lade and received the Trustees' Academic Award, which is only given to one graduating student, so that was quite exciting! I am currently preparing to begin my studies this fall at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in their PhD program in Mathematics.

Austin Gentel

There is an old saying that says time flies when you’re having fun. Well somehow two years have gone by since I was last in Menomonie. I truly can’t believe it has been so long. I can still perfectly picture my room, the town, and of course the taste of cheese curds.
Since my last check up last year I have done a fair amount of work in school and in life. My biggest accomplishment by far was graduating with my B.S. Degree in Environmental Science and with a minor in Psychology. I was even able to achieve the status of Cum Laude while still being super involved on campus.
So where does that leave me now? I am currently an Intern for the Warminster Township here in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. I work for this local Municipality government by mapping all storm drains, and doing water testing out every outfall, or place where the storm water enters the creeks. That of course is my main job, I also work on a variety of different projects, when I’m stuck inside because of the weather.
However, this is only a part of my journey. I currently moved into my first apartment with two of my good friends waiting for my first and last year of my Master program at Delaware Valley University, the same school I have spent that last four years. The next two semesters will be tough, but when the month of May rolls around I will be receiving my Master’s Degree in Policy Studies.
Clearly that time will come and go, and before I know it the real world will actually be in my sights. I look forward to the day that I can return to Menomonie, WI. I hope everyone is doing well and giving the new LAKES students the experience that I so happily remember!!!

Mackenzie Jones

After leaving Menomonie last year, I went back to the University of Akron to finish my junior year there. I’m still double majoring in applied math and economics and my summer in Menomonie inspired me to take an environmental economics class where I got to present a policy project about phosphorus pollution and various solutions to the problem. This has also convinced me to apply to applied economics PhD programs where I can continue to work on environmental problems that affect communities.

Currently I’m at the University of Notre Dame for the summer working on another NSF funded REU program. I’m working with a professor in the economics department researching how people’s attitudes about family life change over time and if how they use their time everyday is reflective of those beliefs.

I’m incredibly grateful for the research opportunity, the sense of community, and love I got while in Menomonie that gave me the courage to work on another research program away from my hometown. I miss Menomonie everyday, especially when I need a good cup of Raw Deal coffee or sardonic humor from my previous research partners. I wish everyone the best in Menomonie and I can’t wait to see your research!

Gunther Melander

Right about now I'm taking it easy. After a long senior year at UW-Stout with my continued  research, and time as Vice President of the Stout student body, I've been enjoying the freedom of Summer by getting reconnected with myself. Currently, I am living with my parents in the small town of Wilson WI (pop 184), but I visit Menomonie often, and most weeks, you can find me camped in the Raw Deal drinking copious amounts of coffee. As for what I am doing with all of this new-found freedom, I have reinvigorated my work as an environmental advocate. Currently, I am working with the Sierra Student Coalition Seize the Grid campaign, and I am also working to build power for the newly-formed Sunrise Movement within the state. While I may not stay in Wisconsin for the coming months, I am thankful for this time to reflect and live in the state of Wisconsin.

Lisette Solis

After I finished my bachelors last year, I decided to take some time off from school and try something new. I have been living in New Zealand and working at the Law Society for the past ten months. I work in the regulatory department reviewing complaints about naughty lawyers and calculating statistics. I have learned a lot about working in the public sector, and have got to use some old skills like Stata and econometrics.

I’m hoping to see a few last Lord of the Rings tourist attractions before heading back to California. Still planning on going to graduate school someday! 

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