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A Lafayette team of two students and two professors recently returned from an exhilarating, groundbreaking trip to Jamaica, where their research findings and recommendations will help shape the country’s fiscal policy toward its public enterprise sector. The students also presented preliminary results from their research on how to achieve economic growth in economies like Jamaica’s.

Marquis Scholar Sarah Lowery ’02, an economics and business major from Missoula, Mont., and Harsh Agrawal ’01, a double major in computer science and economics & business from New Delhi, India, made the trip along with Lafayette faculty members Gladstone Fluney Hutchinson, associate professor of economics and business, and Ute Schumacher, visiting assistant professor of economics and business.

“It was the most amazing experience that I’ve had in my time at Lafayette,” says Hutchinson. “At the seminar that the students presented to senior officers and consultants at the Ministry of Finance and Planning, what should have been a 20-minute presentation with ten minutes for questions turned into a two-hour affair because of the high level of interest. The students’ presentation was excellent �“ quite first-class. The participants from the ministry were quite pleased with the presentation, and were generous in their praise of it.”

The team then made a call on the Financial Secretary of Jamaica before moving on to a meeting with one of Jamaica’s top economists and industrialists, with whom they engaged in an insightful discussion on how fiscal policy could facilitate growth in the economy. The students were thrilled to pick up a major newspaper two days later and read a commentary written by the industrialist that suggested he had wide agreement with their thesis on how to promote economic growth in Jamaica. This was an exciting follow-up to their seminar and invitation a few days earlier to hear the Minister of Finance and Planning deliver his budget speech to the nation. In that speech, he outlined a program for managing the nation’s worsening public debt that reflected, in part, the recommendations from the background study conducted by the Lafayette students and faculty.

“I was truly awed by the people we met in Jamaica,” says Agrawal. “Imagine an undergraduate like me presenting to the highest ranking officials in the Ministry of Finance and Planning of Jamaica. We met and talked with the head of the Private Sector Organization, who is also the head of Citibank for Jamaica, the Financial Secretary of Jamaica, and the head of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute. It was an great learning experience and the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“Having our research work contribute to the shaping of the Jamaican government’s economic program is a tremendous achievement for the students, Dr. Schumacher , and myself, and one from which we have learned a lot about the process of economic development,” adds Hutchinson. “To be invited into the hallowed halls of the Jamaican Parliament and witness the Minister discuss their plan for meeting the economic challenges they face left us with an incredible feeling of pride and a sense that our positive contribution had earned us this privilege. It was a gracious and classy act by the Jamaican government.”

The experience resulted from an EXCEL project with Hutchinson initiated by Agrawal, and subsequent EXCEL work by Hutchinson and Lowery. In Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, students assist faculty members with research while earning a stipend. Lafayette is a national leader in undergraduate research, sending one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year.

“Our EXCEL project focuses on public enterprise reform, taking Jamaica as a case study,” says Agrawal. “We studied the difficulties that economic reform efforts in Jamaica over a 15-year period have had in reducing public enterprises’ absorption of public sector credit and the fiscal risk posed in the management of government finances.”

The project grew out of work Hutchinson conducted as a resident economic adviser for the Government of Jamaica from 1996-98. The students determined how fiscal policy contributes to economic growth and explained ways that management of public finances in Jamaica could be strengthened.

Agrawal co-authored a paper with Hutchinson and Schumacher based on findings from the EXCEL project. Lowery’s work focuses on identifying conditions under which fiscal contraction �“ a reduction of government expenditures in the economy �“ can spur economic growth. The concept is based on new economic findings that sometimes contradict classical Keynesian economics.

“We have been analyzing Jamaica, its economy, fiscal policy, and expenditures, as a case study for our research,” says Lowery. “Jamaica has been attempting to improve its fiscal position, as 60 cents out of every dollar of government expenditures is spent on servicing the country’s debt, i.e. paying interest.”

“To do this, the government has been creating small budget surpluses, but probably must undertake a large reduction in spending, a fiscal contraction, in order to significantly pare down the debt,” she continues. “However, the areas in which the government cuts spending may have a large impact on how the contraction is manifested throughout the economy.” Lowery has been using a large data set of Jamaica’s expenditures to pinpoint areas in which the government of Jamaica can effectively cut spending and still have economic growth.

“The research that I have done has really changed my life,” she notes. “Until I started EXCEL, I had very little idea of what I wanted to do with my life. Now I know that I would ideally like to become an economic analyst or adviser.”

Agrawal also believes his work will benefit him in his career.

“I plan to work for Morgan Stanley after I graduate from Lafayette,” he says. “As a member of the leading investment bank on Wall Street, I think the perspective that I have developed by seeing how a government raises capital and manages its liabilities will be invaluable.”

Both students also are pleased that their work has a chance of positively impacting the people of Jamaica.

“I see the effect that my work can have on others, which is one of the greatest rewards that I have gotten from EXCEL,” says Lowery. “I like economic research, and hopefully my research will contribute to the discussions by the Jamaican government on how to improve their fiscal situation and the Jamaican people will in turn benefit from greater economic activity.”

For Agrawal, the EXCEL project offered opportunities that far exceed conventional classroom experiences.

“I think this research opportunity is one that any undergraduate would kill for,” he says. “I got to do research on a topic that is very current and applicable to many developing nations around the world. Our research is not just going to end up in a journal, but has become part of the policy framework for the Government of Jamaica. I feel very privileged that I was involved in research as an undergraduate that is being read by leading public finance scholars and top policymakers.”

Hutchinson also feels a sense of accomplishment from completing a project that will have practical applications.

“This is a thrill for an economist, to have one’s work create a direct dialogue with those who shape policy,” he says. “The Minister of Finance’s praise for the quality of their work is a testament to the positive contributions that Lafayette students can make to timely and important issues.”

Though only a junior, Lowery has already experienced a full slate of activities at Lafayette.

“Lafayette has provided me with opportunities that I had never dreamed of,” she says. “I went abroad last fall to Sydney, Australia; I am participating in the Washington Semester Program at American University next fall; I traveled to Jamaica for the EXCEL program; I will go abroad somewhere during the interim because I am a Marquis Scholar, another great benefit of Lafayette; I interned at Prudential Securities in Philadelphia; I hope to intern on Wall Street this summer; and I hope to attend a conference in Japan at the end of the summer.”

She adds, “I feel that my experiences and education at Lafayette will make me a great candidate for the job force or graduate school when I leave Lafayette.”

In addition to the EXCEL project, Agrawal has benefited from a wide variety of educational options and experiences.

“I believe that I would not have this opportunity anywhere except Lafayette,” he says. “Lafayette has a great academic environment where students are encouraged to go outside the classroom and explore new intellectual avenues with their professors. The professors at Lafayette especially encourage students to engage in discussions with them and I think this fuels a lot of intellectual curiosity in students.”

Agrawal is a member of the Omicron Delta Epsilon economics honors society, the Upsilon Pi Epsilon computer science honors society, of which he is president, and Pi Mu Epsilon, the mathematics honors society. He was elected as the Charles A. Dana Scholar three consecutive times and was also awarded the 2001 Robert F. Hunsicker Award in Economics and the 1998 Barge Mathematics Prize. He is a resident adviser and a member of the International Students Association, the Asian Cultural Association, and the Association for Computing Machinery.

Lowery is a Marquis Scholar and a McKelvy Scholar. She made the Dean’s List in 1999 and 2000, is a member of Omicron Delta Upsilon, and was on the Student Athlete Academic Honor Roll in the fall of 1998 and 1999. She was also a member of the Lafayette College Leadership seminar in 1998 and 1999. She is a volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club and a member of the Investment Club, the Association of Black Collegians, and NIA, where she has served as secretary. She also plays intramural flag football.

Categorized in: Academic News