Andrew W. Stevens, AB '12
What was your involvement with the University of Chicago’s Program on the Global Environment (PGE)?
As an undergraduate, I double-majored in Economics and Environmental Studies. I was particularly interested in the economics of agricultural policy and the food system, and sought out others on campus who were interested in similar topics. I ultimately became heavily involved in the PGE’s nascent Environment, Agriculture, and Food (EAF) Working Group. Over several years, I worked with co-founders Dr. Sabina Shaikh and Dr. Pamela Martin – along with many other participants – to develop seminar series, research projects, and scholarly collaborations on campus. As one example, I spent a summer collecting field data on agricultural energy use for use in an EAF-affiliated research project. I also helped manage a course-wide research project on green restaurants in Chicago my senior year. Finally, I wrote an undergraduate thesis about the economics of farmers’ markets with a lot of support from the PGE. My time working with the PGE helped reinforce my desire to apply to graduate programs in Agricultural Economics and to pursue a career in academic research.
What have you done since graduating from the University of Chicago?
After graduating from college, I began a PhD program in Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California – Berkeley. I earned my MS degree in 2013 and my PhD in 2017. While in grad school, I greatly expanded my methodological skillset. In particular, I developed important tools in microeconometrics and causal inference that allowed me to explore important policy-relevant topics in my research. Over the past five years, I’ve explored a variety of subjects from the cultural importance of quinoa in Peru to the effect of information on technology adoption to the impact of temperature on agricultural laborers’ wage-responsiveness. The themes that tie all my research together are (1) a commitment to rigorous empirical methods, and (2) a topical relation to agriculture, food, or the environment.
Where are you now, and what are you doing?
In August 2017, I began as an Assistant Professor of Agricultural Economics at Mississippi State University. My appointment is split between research and teaching, meaning that I get to focus on both conducting original research and teaching students in our undergraduate and graduate programs. One particularly exciting aspect of my current position is that I get to teach a course in undergraduate research: “Applied Quantitative Research.” In practice, the course is very similar to the senior thesis process I went through as an undergraduate in the PGE. I keep having flashbacks to when I was in my students’ position and reflect on all the things that made my time at UChicago so fruitful. I have certainly incorporated some of those memories and insights into my own teaching.
On the research side of things, I’ve got my fingers in a number of different proverbial pies. I’ve been busy learning about the state of Mississippi and its unique agricultural and environmental challenges. For instance, did you know that farmers in the Mississippi Delta use massive amounts of groundwater, and that the state is already looking for policy or technological solutions to an impending groundwater shortage? (I didn’t know that when I arrived here, but now I’m fascinated by the possibility of doing some economic research on the subject.) I’m also finishing up much of the research I began in graduate school and trying to get it published in academic journals.
What else do you want people to know?
When I look at all the amazing work going on at UChicago in the PGE, with the EAF Working Group, and around campus generally, I’m incredibly jealous of current students. There are so many more resources and experts in the areas of environmental economics, food policy, and energy economics then there were when I was a student. Between the PGE, the Harris School of Public Policy, the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC), and others, Chicago is really an amazing place to study these issues. Having said all that, I also encourage current students (or anyone, really) to reach out to people at other schools or in professional organizations to talk about what you find interesting. Academics love to talk about their work – especially to anyone who expresses an interest in it.
Oh – and take advantage of the weird awesomeness of Chicago while you can. Do SCAV. Hang out in cool neighborhoods around the city. Buy even more books at the Sem Co-Op. Five years from now, you’ll be happy you did.