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One of two things could have happened when Michael Tortora ’06 (Willington, Conn.) began working on a research project for the economics and business department.

“When I started this summer, I had a career path in mind,” he says. “What this summer gave me was a reinforcement that if I were to go to work at the [Federal Reserve Bank], having had this three-month trial period, I can easily say, ‘Wow, I really do enjoy doing this type of stuff’. Whereas if I didn’t enjoy it, I could say, ‘I really don’t’ and not continue.”

Fortunately for Tortora, an economics and business major, his work amassing figures in order to study the relationship between pay scales and company size confirmed the former.

The starting goalie on the men’s soccer team and a peer mentor, Tortora has been completing the work with the help of Christopher Ruebeck, assistant professor of economics and business, as part of Lafayette’s distinguished EXCEL Scholars Program, which allows students to conduct research with faculty members while earning a stipend. The program has helped Lafayette earn the reputation of being a national leader in undergraduate research, and many of the more than 160 students who participate each year go on to publish scholarly papers and/or share their work at academic conferences.

Ruebeck says Tortora is working with about eight years of salary information from the retail companies throughout the nation. Using a variety of economics-geared computer programs, he has been compiling the salaries of chief executive officers, those directly below them, and so on down the salary chain.

After those sets of data are complete, comparisons are made between big and small companies.

“The question then arises, how many people are in the pyramid below the managers?” Ruebeck says. “That wouldbe something to explain why larger firms pays a manager more because they have more to do and more people or processes to supervise.”

They are also looking at the difference in the amount of incentive pay given to employees in larger firms compared to the bonuses received by those with the same responsibilities at smaller firms.

“The idea is that not only might the total pay be related, but the percentage of pay that is their incentive pay might increase as the size of the firm increases,” Ruebeck says.

Already, those in the retail sector use such information to predict and establish salaries, but creating such a comprehensive database could benefit numerous others.

“This would be used by economists or policymakers when they think about the effects of having bigger firms,” Ruebeck says. “More and more, businesses are merging, consolidating, and forming conglomerates. That means the firms are getting bigger and maybe that means the firms are getting more productive. And at the same time the firms are getting bigger, the people who work at those firms are getting more and more [money],” Ruebeck says.

So, policymakers who set tax rates for small and large businesses would have to take into account the uneven salaries to create balanced taxing policies, he adds.

While the nature of this work and its societal implication is compelling, Tortora says the biggest benefit of working on the project has been exposure to the economics software.

“STATA is regression software and whether or not I decide to go to graduate school, a lot of jobs I’m looking at use this type of software,” Tortora says. “It’s above and beyond what will prepare me for later in life.”

He explains that STATA predicts the appropriate salaries of people in certain positions.

“I’m almost positive I want to work for the Federal Reserve, and learning this economic software got me interested in this project,” says Tortora, adding that the more experience and advanced education he gains, the more equipped he will be to land a job in a highly competitive field.

Ruebeck believes the work builds on Tortora’s existing skills.

“It prepares a lot of these students for writing an honors thesis, which is radically different than class work in that they have to think of questions and how to answer them,” Ruebeck says. “And it exposes students to what it might be like to pursue graduate studies.”

Tortora agrees that he’s more equipped for learning outside the classroom.

“One of the biggest things is that it’s so independent. Even though Professor Ruebeck is with you and always there to help, the first thing is trying it by yourself,” he says.

A graduate of E.O. Smith High School, Tortora was named Patriot League Rookie of the Week in his collegiate soccer debut after recording a shutout. He earned another Rookie of the Week award that season and holds a 1.11 career goals against average.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News