Putting Passion into Research and Practice

Last January, I traveled with the Honors Guild to Northern Ireland to study peace and reconciliation.  It was an amazing learning experience where we met with religious leaders, community leaders and politicians to better understand the conflict in Northern Ireland.  As we learned about the controversy between the Irish Catholics and British Protestants, I realized that there is more to the conflict than differences in beliefs.  The people in Northern Ireland were fighting over land, opportunity and dignity for their own right to exist.  I noticed similarities between Northern Ireland and Israel, two religious people groups fighting over land.  But how much of it is truly religion based?  As an economics student, I started wondering how much unemployment, declining GDP, and high interest rates were playing a role in the conflict.

The Honors Guild directors encouraged me to explore this issue.  I met with professors in the Economics and Math departments and developed an independent study class.  Last fall, I met with these professors and a friend and fellow student Benjamin to discuss how I could integrate my love of Economics and my deep interest in this issue.  My professors introduced Benjamin and me to Econometrics, which is math statistics for economists.

Before we could tackle Northern Ireland, we designed an econometric model to examine conflict in countries around the world.  We collected data from the World Bank and then developed regression models.  Basically, the models asked “if GDP is this much, unemployment is this much, literacy rates are this much, population is this much, the poverty rate is this much…” and so on, what is the expected level of conflict in that area.  We gathered data for over 120 variables.

From our final models, Benjamin and I wrote a paper explaining this exploratory process.  Dr. Scott Moeschberger encouraged me back in Ireland to find a topic to research and then submit it to a conference.  Eleven months later, I did just that.

Benjamin and I submitted our paper to the Bowling Green Undergraduate Paper contest.  We were chosen as finalists and asked to travel to Bowling Green to present our paper.  We presented in front of professors and students from 10 other universities including the University of Michigan, Kent State and the University of Dayton and then were asked to do a Q&A session.  We ended up receiving 1st place in the Macroeconomic division and were awarded a cash prize.

While we were honored to have our work recognized, it was really motivating to see what students at other universities were studying.  Some of the students were working on projects such as making the European railway more efficient or developing a valuation method for community preferences.  These topics were fascinating and I got to ask them questions about their experiences and research.

This experience shows why I have enjoyed studying at Taylor.  The professors encouraged me to study my passions, mentored me through it and then made sure that my work was recognized.  I was able to study both economics and Irish History as well as learn about conflict around the world.  Being a part of the Honors Guild provided me with the resources to travel and present my work ,but the Honors Guild also provides a group of passionate students willing to challenge my thinking and ideas.  I am already eager to start preparing my submission for next year’s conference.

By Maggie O’Connell, Junior at Taylor University

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