CALS student studies community economic resilience
While studying abroad in Florence, Italy, on a faculty-led program through Washington State University’s School of Economic Sciences, Lauryn Ringwood found her passion for applied economics.
“I met people that work in economics and I really resonated with the way that they look at things — it’s a lot of weighing pros and cons and thinking about all sides of an issue and that was attractive to me,” Ringwood said.
Originally from Finley, Washington, Ringwood received her bachelor’s degree in economics from WSU before coming to the University of Idaho for an advanced degree. She will graduate from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) in May with a master’s degree in applied economics.
“Deciding on a major was really hard for me,” Ringwood said. “Learning about the research in my study abroad program, I saw that you’re learning these general analysis skills that can be applied to almost anything. The flexibility of economics was my way of evading choosing one topic.”
Ringwood was looking to further her career when she heard about the applied economics program at UI from WSU faculty members.
“UI is really great at being able to provide funding for their students, so that was very appealing because I’d be able to be a research assistant and contribute to a project while I was here,” Ringwood said.
Ringwood has always been intrigued by communities — what shapes them, what makes them distinct, what makes them thrive while others decline. Her interest peaked after serving on a nonprofit through AmeriCorps in Mendocino County, California, prior to starting her graduate program at UI.
The nonprofit represented an alliance of rural community health centers. She worked as a workforce development specialist and public health liaison, and was the program coordinator for a health care workforce pipeline program called Rural Health Scholars. She also served as the project facilitator for a pilot project with the American Diabetes Association.
Ringwood was offered a graduate research assistantship at UI that allowed her to study community resilience.
“The offer to work on a project looking at economic resilience immediately struck me as a unique opportunity to apply my knowledge as an economics student to something I had always been curious about personally,” Ringwood said. “This was an easy ‘yes’ for me.”
Ringwood is working with Philip Watson, associate professor of economics, and Paul Lewin, Extension specialist in rural community development and assistant professor of economics, who are conducting research in regional economics and working on a USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) funded project on economic resilience. The project focuses on community’s abilities to withstand shock and recover when they’ve been hit by something unexpected, such as a natural disaster or a major employer closing.
Ringwood is working to develop a new way of measuring economic resilience by studying the resilience at the county level after examining how all 3,000 counties in the U.S. responded to the 2008 national recession.
“When we have a shock that happens — like the national recession — we look at a more observable response from the community, either in employment levels or output changes during that time, and we actually look at a graph and measure the dimensions of a dip in employment and response to the shock,” Ringwood said.
Once it was determined which communities responded well and which were impacted more strongly by the recession, the researchers looked at the resources communities have, and how that influences their response to unpredictable shocks. Through early analysis, farming-dependent communities showed up very strong in association with higher resilience during the 2008 recession, Ringwood said.
Ringwood appreciates the family atmosphere at UI, and is thankful for how approachable and available faculty members have been throughout her program.
“Before I came here I was hearing a lot of emphasis on the UI family and it does feel that way,” Ringwood said. “I really liked that my program was pretty small and as graduate students we have a lot of access to the faculty members. I know that if I wanted help from any of them they wouldn’t have to be my current teacher or be on my committee — they would still be happy to meet with me and that accessibility has been really nice.”
After graduation, Ringwood is considering continuing to work in regional economics. She plans to reflect on the different experiences she has had.
“I like the idea of a career that can evolve with you — I think that has been a theme of my experiences so far,” Ringwood said. “I need things to continue to change and to encounter new subjects and puzzles just to stay interested, and I think that’s something that I’m thinking about as I look at jobs — just what job is maybe not going to be the same everyday years on end and what I can grow and explore through.”
Story by Jean Parrella, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences