UWEC students research impacts of COVID-19

Professor Thomas Kemp runs an economic research methods class based on the pandemic

For+the+first+two+weeks+of+the+semester%2C+Kemp+presents+what+is+to+be+expected%2C+guiding+the+students%2C+but+the+remaining+weeks+consist+of+collecting+and+assembling+data+into+a+cohesive+picture.

Photo by Mitch Pettijohn

For the first two weeks of the semester, Kemp presents what is to be expected, guiding the students, but the remaining weeks consist of collecting and assembling data into a cohesive picture.

UW-Eau Claire is offering an economics research methods class this semester that focuses on how the pandemic affects the economy. 

Thomas Kemp, a professor of economics and department chair, teaches the class. This semester it is the “The Empirical Economics of the COVID-19 Pandemic” and he said it brings students together to research various issues brought on because of the pandemic.

The department has run several classes like this, Kemp said. The background is different every time. The department usually runs the class when they have a request in the community.

“This is the first time we’ve done one of these that wasn’t requested by an outside constituency,” Kemp said. “We’re focusing on COVID-19 because this is the current state of the world which we live in.”

Kemp said the curriculum is not black and white because each group works at their own pace.

“It’s different for everyone,” Kemp said. “Some start here and others start there. Some finish here and others finish there.”

Students are required to do an original research project looking at real data, Kemp said. It’s not a theoretical exercise, but an analysis of data and the student’s use of their own skills to present that data.

For the first two weeks, Kemp said he presents what is to be expected, guiding the students, but the rest of the semester consists of collecting and assembling data into a cohesive picture.

Kemp said he hopes this class is an example of a public institution providing education to citizens of Wisconsin but also serving needs within the community.

“My goal is to get students to apply what they’ve learned in previous classes and get a real-world experience,” Kemp said. “The students are identifying strategies that are likely to help out local business and community members in the event of future calamities of a varied sort.”

Beau Sweitzer, a third-year economic student, took this class to understand the impact of the pandemic.

“This class has prepared my group members and me for our futures by allowing us to analyze a specific sector of the economy and apply data we found of significance to then report our findings, just like we would in the workforce,” Sweitzer said.

There are 24 students in the class, Kemp said. There are six groups of four students who pick different topics from agricultural impacts to income and employment rates, all of which relate to the pandemic’s effect on the economy.

Sara Patoka, a fourth-year economics and international business student, said she was first drawn to the class because she had one final economics elective to fulfill and this class fit the bill. However, she said it became more than that.

“This class demonstrates the essentialness of pulling meaning out of data and telling a story,” Patoka said. “Economists can be storytellers. Our insights could be stepping stones for change and action to improve conditions inflicted by the pandemic.”

Not only does Patoka feel like the students are learning more about the effects of COVID-19, but they are also practicing managing large sets of data, she said.

“This is important with determining what items of data are significant,” Patoka said. “Their level of correlation which contributes to their overall effect on the situation.”

Both Patoka and Sweizer agree that this class sheds a light on the greater importance of the study of economics and that it prepares students for their careers.

The class is offered whenever there is a community problem that needs analysis, Kemp said.

“When we can offer it as an external research class, we do,” Kemp said. “But we are always working on community research.”

When he is not teaching this class, he has a research team working on different projects, Kemp said. Currently, the team is working on a project requested by the city that will be continued once the semester is over.

If students are interested in doing applied economic research, they should contact Kemp at [email protected]

Lunderville can be reached at [email protected].