By Thomas Lee
Undergraduate Elizabeth Dobis works and chills out at the crossroads of math, economic theory, and human behavior
At 21, Elizabeth Dobis is already engaged in the kind of interdisciplinary thinking that usually attracts professors and graduate students. Ever since she enrolled in a course in human geography and another in the economics of discrimination, she has been fascinated by how people who live in a certain area shape their economy -- and vice-versa.
"Geography is the study of people and where they live and how they interact with their environment. What's where? Who's there? And why do we care?" Dobis explains. But to answer those questions, she needed to understand economic principles. That was the beauty of taking these courses simultaneously, she says: "It was a wonderful experience for me, seeing how geography and economics interact."
That kind of enthusiasm has made Dobis one of the Department of Economics' top students. She was awarded the Selmer Birkelo Scholarship, which honors the highest achieving students in the College of Liberal Arts.
Over the summer, Dobis interned at the Federal Reserve Bank, where she helped to revive an economics journal for the Upper Peninsula region in Michigan. The quarterly newsletter provides readers with an economic snapshot of the region. Dobis compiled and interpreted data like bank deposits, cost of living, and pounds of air cargo.
Perhaps economics runs in Dobis' blood. Her father is an economics professor at Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Growing up in Fargo, Dobis relished those word problems found in math books that students either love or loathe.
"I always enjoyed math," Dobis said. "I find it very therapeutic to sit there and work problems over and over again."
Puzzling through math problems may be her equivalent of squeezing a stress ball, but Dobis is also fascinated by the role that math can play, for economists, in explaining human behavior. Economic problem solving, Dobis says, taps into the theoretical in ways that can help us to understand the world better. "It's as much about how people interact as it is about the graphs and numbers," she says.
Dobis says she is now better equipped to understand the pros and cons of globalization, for instance. "The world is more connected, more diverse," she says. "There is a wider pool of knowledge, more inventions. A lot of good can come from things like that. But is the First World preying off the Third World? Are we reinforcing the ideas of colonization in which a few countries use their power and might to drain the natural resources out of less fortunate countries subjugated to their rule? Or is globalization helping those countries? Questions like that are really interesting to look into.
"Being in a liberal arts college allows you the freedom to analyze these and other problems from many perspectives," Dobis says. "It teaches you to think more creatively about problem solving rather than staying with a status quo that may not be good for everyone involved."
Although her immediate postcollege plans are still taking shape, graduate school is definitely on the agenda. For starters, she might travel and maybe work for the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. But for now, she is just having a good time learning.
"My summer was the summer of exploration," Dobis says. "As a freshman, I was sitting here going, 'I don't want to go to grad school after I finish college. I'm tired.' Somewhere during the year things kind of clicked and I'm enjoyin