Energized by Economics

Laura Molyneaux and her dad in front of the White House
Monday, November 21, 2011

“I knew if I went to the University of Rhode Island, I would hang out with my friends from high school,” says Laura Molyneaux ’12 (economics) of North Kingstown, RI. “I wanted to meet new people and experience new things. Visiting UMass Amherst the first time, I got the vibe that it was right for me. As it turns out, I was correct.”

When Molyneaux arrived on campus, she thought physics would be her major because of the straight-forward nature of the field. “I quickly realized though that for me physics doesn’t offer enough analysis,” she says. “It was all about deriving functions in order to explain what is going on. I was more interested to know why things work the way they do. While physics offers some of that, most notably in theoretical physics, I wanted a more theoretical field that could be backed up with real world analysis. So I switched to political science, a field that is all theory, with little empirical evidence to back it up.”

However, that still wasn’t the right fit, so Molyneaux tried economics. “For me, it has the perfect blend of theory and analysis,” she says. “You can create new theories and have hard data to back it up. And I love the idea that I can make real contributions to the field because it is still evolving.”

Molyneaux has taken her interest in economics outside the classroom through active participation in the Economics Club on campus. (What sorts of things do you do in that group?) This year she will be co-president of the group. Molyneaux also has been active in the Golden Key International Honour Society, a non-profit, invitation-only organization, which strives to recognize and encourage students who have excelled academically. Members include the likes of Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel and Bill Clinton. This year Molyneaux will lead the UMass Chapter, stepping up from her role as vice president last year. “Running two groups on campus keeps me very busy,” she says.

It’s important for students to join at least one student organization in order to find their niche on campus. “There are so many different groups. It’s easy to find the right fit,” she says. “UMass has the reputation of being a party school, and it’s true that if that’s what you’re looking for in your college experience, then you can find it here—or at whatever school you go to. However, there are tons of things to do here, and lots of people on campus don’t party. It’s about finding the right group, the one’s who have similar interests as you, to hang out with.”

Recognizing the value of internships, Molyneaux immersed herself in one this past summer in Washington, D.C. “I worked in the Chief Financial Officer’s office at the IRS,” she says. “The experience has helped me cement what I want to do. We did mostly administrative work, focusing on the day-to-day running of the IRS and preparing for the annual GAO audit. I love this because it involves a lot of research and analysis, similar to what school is like.”

The opportunity, however, was unpaid, as many internships are. Molyneaux was grateful therefore to receive the competitive Merriam Internship Scholarship from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “It took a bit of the edge off the expense of living in D.C. on virtually no income."

Recently Molyneaux’s focus has turned to environmental economics. “It’s not very surprising, as I have been interested in environmental conservation since I began learning about wildlife restoration in middle school,” she says. “I am constantly reenergized by the thought that I could discover something to redefine how we balance the needs of the economy and the health of the environment.”

While in Washington Molyneaux attended several conferences, which confirmed her desire to do environmental work. She sees her experience with the IRS as a stepping stone toward that goal.

“I’ve loved my time at UMass,” Molyneaux says. “It’s true I’ve had a couple of not-so-good teachers and classes, but I’ve had some fantastic ones! I highly recommend that economics majors take Junior Writing with John Stifler.”

These days Molyneaux is focused on her honors thesis and getting into a master’s degree program in environmental and natural resource economics. “After that, who knows? But I do hope to live in D.C. some day and make real contributions to my field."