Three Coe alumni earn economics doctorates within two weeks

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2016-05-20 13:01:21 - General

Three accomplished Coe College alumni have earned their economics doctorates within a two-week period. All three – Bibek Adhiari '12, Jake Smith '09 and Drew Westberg '05 – majored in economics and participated in the Spellman Summer Research Program while undergraduate students.

The Spellman Summer Research Program was created in memory of George R. Baker Professor of Business Administration and Economics William Spellman, who taught at Coe from 1970 until his untimely death in 1997.

Each year, eight to 10 business, economics, and accounting majors are selected as Spellman Research associates and are invited to spend the summer at Coe, working on a research project with a department faculty member. Throughout the summer, they meet with their faculty supervisors and with each other in an attempt to learn more about the topics they're studying and about the process of conducting academic research.

The work done by many Spellman Research associates is the beginning stage of what normally becomes a senior honor thesis. These theses are in-depth papers that are presented and defended by the students to a faculty committee on campus and are sometimes also presented at professional meetings or published in academic journals.

"It is great to see these students go on and achieve their goals as lifelong learners," said The Henry B. Tippie Professor of Business Administration and Economics Rick Eichhorn. "The preparation Coe provides, especially in the Stead Department of Business and Economics and through the Spellman Research Workshop, is truly exceptional. I look forward to seeing Drew, Jake, and Bibek develop as professional economists."

Bibek Adhikari

Originally from Kathmandu, Nepal, Bibek Adhikari graduated cum laude from Coe in 2012 with majors in economics and mathematics. While pursuing his Ph.D. in economics at Tulane University in New Orleans, he specialized in taxation. Among many other awards in graduate school, he received the NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant and a Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant from the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy.

His doctoral dissertation was entitled, “The Economic Effects of Broad-Based and Flat-Rate Tax Systems.” In the dissertation, Adhikari analyzed whether broad-based and flat-rate tax systems such as value-added tax (VAT) and flat-rate income tax improve economic growth, productivity and capital deepening. To answer these questions, he used aggregate, industry-level and firm-level data and various quasi-experimental techniques such as synthetic control methods, difference-in-differences, and regression discontinuity designs.

In the fall, Adhikari will join the faculty at Illinois State University in Normal, where he will teach public economics and introductory economics courses.

Adhikari believes his Coe education provided an excellent foundation for his graduate school success.

"Coe's well-rounded education, particularly economics and mathematics courses and the Spellman Research Program, which helped me hone skills such as critical and analytical thinking, and presenting ideas through compelling writing and speech, have proven immensely helpful in my graduate studies," Adhikari said.

Jake Smith

A native of Dubuque, Iowa, Jake Smith graduated cum laude from Coe in 2009, double majoring in economics and political science. While at Coe, he was a four-year football letter winner, an opinion staff writer for the Coe Cosmos, and participated in Student Senate and Political Science Club.

Smith just earned his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Houston, specializing in applied time series econometrics and financial economics. Prior to moving to Texas, he received a master's in economics from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In both graduate programs, he served as a graduate assistant in economics.

"It is fantastic that our small department has had so much success generating doctorates," Smith said. "It's truly a testament to the dedication of the economics faculty and the quality of Coe's education in general. The Spellman Summer Research Program in particular gives undergraduates a unique opportunity to work directly with faculty developing a deeper understanding of modern economics; an opportunity not available to most other economics undergrads."

Smith has accepted a position with Ouray Energy, a start-up hedge fund that will trade natural gas and power.

Drew Westberg

A native of Marshalltown, Iowa, Drew Westberg graduated magna cum laude from Coe in 2005, majoring in economics with a minor in classical studies. While at Coe, he was a four-year golf letter winner, worked in the Writing Center, was news editor for the Coe Cosmos, and was a member of Student Senate. He was a Clark Merit Award recipient, and earned the LaVerne Marie Tucker Prize in Economics and Business for his senior thesis.

Westberg completed his M.S. and Ph.D. degree work in economics at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, specializing in spatial econometrics and the geography of public school closings. Prior to entering graduate school in the fall of 2012, Westberg was the special assistant to the Cedar Rapids city manager, working primarily on recovery efforts following the 2008 floods.

Westberg returned to Coe as a visiting faculty member in 2015. Last fall, he became a tenure-track member of the faculty in the Stead Department of Business Administration and Economics, adding a faculty perspective to his experience with the Spellman Summer Research Program.

"The program provides students a framework to engage with meaningful questions, while developing and honing their research and analytical thinking skills," Westberg said. "My time in the program helped me become a better researcher, a better writer, and a more valuable asset to my employers."

Coe College offers superb academics and exciting co-curricular activities in a thriving urban setting that promotes student growth and success. Established in 1851, Coe has a national reputation for academic excellence enhanced by a student-centered, highly supportive campus environment.  Coe’s vibrant Cedar Rapids location provides an abundance of internships for students and career opportunities for graduates.