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Meeting of the Minds: Carnegie Mellon Undergraduate Research Symposium

The annual celebration of undergraduate research, Meeting of the Minds - Undergraduate Research Symposium, is one of the most exciting events on our campus; it is a day when undergraduate students come together and present their research to their peers and faculty. We encourage everyone to attend - play with a new robot, hear a concerto, listen to a poem, consider the effects of poverty on primary education achievement in third world countries, find out about emerging technologies....and more.

Each year, student projects are recognized for their innovation, creativity, and contribution to the discipline.  Below you will find a list of competitions in which Undergraduate Economics Program students have been recognized.

Spring 2013 Undergraduate Economics Program Competition Winners
Spring 2013 Statistics Department Competition Winners

Spring 2012 Undergraduate Economics Program Competition Winners
Spring 2012 Statistics Department Competition Winners
Spring 2012 STUDIO of Creative Inquiry Competition Winners

Spring 2011 Undergraduate Economics Program Competition Winners
Spring 2011 Statistics Department Competition Winners

Spring 2010 Richard Schoenwald Phi Beta Kappa Undergraduate Research Prize Winner
Spring 2010 Undergraduate Economics Program Competition Winners
Spring 2010 Statistics Department Competition Winners

Spring 2009 Statistics Department Competition Winner

Spring 2013 Undergraduate Economics Program Competition

A goal of the Undergraduate Economics Program is to encourage students to think creatively and bring together their formal training with their passions. Eligibility:  Open to any undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Economics or team of undergraduate students enrolled in an UEP course. Eligible prospects include students writing a senior thesis in Economics and projects developed in UEP courses (including independent study Students meeting the eligibility requirements must participate in the "Oral Presentations" category during Meeting of the Minds in order to be considered for the award. Participating in the "Poster Sessions" is not sufficient. Judging is based on the following factors: a) the quality of the abstract; b) intellectual process and results described in the presentation; and c) presentation skills (including Q&A) during the Meeting of the Minds.

First Place

  • Jung Moon Jang (Economics and Statistics: Class of 2013): The Relationship Between the Unemployment Rate and Birthrate in Korea

Through this research, I have looked at the relationship between the unemployment rate and the birth rate with  a focus in Korea. For past few decades, despite the high volume of students obtaining undergraduate degrees,  the unemployment rate has constantly increased, bringing about a critical social issue. On the other hand,  families have been giving birth to fewer children or no child at all despite the government’s efforts to financially aid parents to raise their children. Because of this phenomenon, a new term called ‘Sampo generation’ has  emerged, describing people in their 20s and 30s giving up on three things since they can’t economically support themselves: dating, marriage, and giving birth. It has been hypothesized that since the unemployment rate  is high, more people are having fewer kids as a consequence because it costs money and time to raise kids  which parents in nowadays can’t afford with their own incomes. Believing there are many other factors behind  this issue, I have selected other variables such as political perspectives, income levels, and education levels of  parents etc. from the Korean Statistical Information Service between 1990 and 2011 to include in a panel dataset. I have discovered that there is a negative relationship between birth rate and unemployment. In addition, parents’ education levels, political perspectives, activity rates, and income levels are also significant variables

Second Place
(2-way tie)

  • Oliver Haimson (Economics: Class of 2013): Where Are They Now? Analyzing Gender Differences in Executive Exit Patterns

One of the main reasons that the representation of female executives is lower in top ranks relative to lower  ranks is that female executives exit the market at a higher rate than male executives. In particular, one  hypothesis is that discrimination against females exists in this market, while another hypothesis is that female  executives exit more frequently for other reasons, such as family. This project aims to examine the reasons why female executives leave their positions at a significantly higher rate than male executives. While some  explanations can be ruled out by observing promotion and compensation of executives who remain in the  occupation, it is not possible to directly address issues of discrimination without observing the outcomes of executives after they leave.

To address this question, I research a data set of female and male executives, using databases and web  searches to collect data on their exit reasons and next steps after exiting their positions. An analysis of the  data finds that female exit reasons differ significantly from male exit reasons in several important ways. Female  executives were found to be more likely to be fired, less likely to retire or resign, and more likely to move on  to a public company than their male counterparts, even when controlling for human capital and job-related variables. While these results suggest the possibility of workplace discrimination against female executives,  more research would be needed to argue this conclusively.

  • Karthik Nagarajan (Economics: Class of 2013): School Choice: Diversity Constraints

Controlled school choice policies are often implemented in the form of “hard” quotas on student types (e.g.  race, gender, location). Results from literature show that the standard fairness property is not satisfied under  such “hard” quotas. As a compromise between fairness and diversity restrictions, I employ a mixed interpretation of these quotas (in which the minimum quotas are “soft” and maximum quotas are “hard”) to formulate a  modified version of the student-proposing deferred acceptance algorithm that satisfies the desired fairness property. This algorithm also provides an improvement in controlled diversity over a purely “soft” quotas approach, but  at the cost of non-wastefulness, reflecting the welfare-diversity trade-offs inherent in controlled school choice.

Spring 2013 Statistics Competition

This competition is sponsored by the Department of Statistics. Its purpose is to encourage undergraduate projects and research in statistics, and to inform faculty and students about these projects. The competition is open to any student or team of students who have completed a project under supervision of a Statistics faculty member. At least half the members of the team must be enrolled in an undergraduate program in the spring semester of 2010, not necessarily at Carnegie Mellon University. A panel of judges will rate the projects according to the following criteria: quality of abstract; clarity of objective; organization of thoughts; general quality of work; significance of work; oral presentation skills; visual presentation quality; appropriate use of statistical methods; and responses to questions.

Third Place Poster Session

  • Zachary Branson (Economics and Statistics, Class of 2014), Shaina Mitchell (Mathematics), and Sarah Peko-Spicer (Economics and Statistics, Class of 2013): Absence and Achievement in Pittsburgh Public Schools

Spring 2012 Undergraduate Economics Program Competition

First Place
(2-way tie)

  • Ashish Thakrar (Economics, Class of 2012): The Rising Cost of Diabetes Care: Annual and Geographic Variations in Expenditures, Decomposed by Price and Utilization.

This project aims to analyze health care spending for patients with diabetes from 2006 to 2010. We begin by reviewing descriptive data on rising health care costs and the rising prevalence of diabetes nationwide, with a focus on the state of Florida. In our analysis, we use inpatient hospital data from Florida to construct an index that measures changes in health expenditures for diabetics. Based on these calculations, inpatient hospital spending on diabetes increased 23% for those insured by Medicaid, 25% for those insured by Medicare, and 10% for those with private insurance. We decompose these expenditure indexes into price and quantity components to understand whether increased spending is driven by higher prices or increased utilization. These indices are further broken down into age and sex cohorts. Overall we find significant variation in price and quantity changes, with the highest price increases for Medicaid recipients and greatest utilization increases for those with private insurance. Shifts in expenditures for females were generally driven by increased utilization, while shifts in expenditures for men were driven by price increases.

  • Lyubov Zeylikman (Economics, Class of 2012): What's the Deal with Free Shipping?.

E-commerce giants like Amazon Prime and Zappos are known for their offering of unconditional free shipping on purchases. However, while the results are clear, the reasons why this phenomenon occurs are not. We develop an experimental model based on Michael Lewis’ and Yinghui Yang’s  findings which support that medium thresholds for free shipping incentivize consumers to buy higher quantities of goods more than low, high, and free shipping thresholds. In our model we also include a fixed shipping rate condition with no option to earn free shipping. We report the results of an experiment to test the effects of offering varied schedules for earning free shipping in a simulated online shopping environment. 34 Carnegie Mellon students participated in an experiment with a given endowment and shopping list, to purchase items across 3 periods, per 6 different conditions. The performance during the experiment was judged based on whether the participant performed optimally. Results are in agreement with the model, supporting that the medium threshold condition incentivizes participants to buy higher quantities of goods more than other conditions.

Second Place

  • Alisa Deychman (Economics, Class of 2012): Merger Retrospective: Examining Kimberly-Clark and Scott Paper Company Merger.

Spring 2012 Statistics Competition

First Place Poster Session

  • Brandon Ngiam (Mathematics), Carl (Ted) Sturges (Economics and Statistics, Class of 2012), and Anna Svirsko (Mathematics): Anti-Piracy Laws and Box Office Sales:  A Case Study in France.

Second Place Poster Session

  • Michael Pane (Economics and Statistics, Class of 2013), Nicholas Rock (Economics and Statistics, Class of 2013), and George Volichenko (Statistics, Class of 2012): Reducing Costs for the Port Authority.

Honorable Mention Poster Session

(3-way tie)

  • Benjamin Gorman (Economics, Class of 2012), Chelsea Grindle (Mathematics), and Jongwoo Lee (Statistics): Internet Piracy at CMU: Student Behavior and Options.
  • Nancy Geronian (Economics and Statistics, Class of 2014), Jungmoon Jang (Statistics), Jeff Lee (Economics and Statistics, Class of 2012), Kaylee Makel (Economics, Class of 2013), and Victor Wilczynski (Economics, Class of 2013): Census on Parking Meters at CMU.
  • Elizabeth Lorenzi (Economics and Statistics, Class of 2013), Joon Su Min (Economics and Statistics, Class of 2013), and Laura Patzer (Statistics): Analysis of Film Distributor's iTunes Promotion.

Spring 2012 STUDIO for Creative Inquiry Competition

This competition will reward an atypical, anti-disciplinary and/or inter-institutional student research project that explores new intersections of art, science, technology and culture.

Second Place

  • Sam Lavery (BHA in Economics and Architecture, Class of 2012): Resurrecting the Homestead Steelworks.

Spring 2011 Undergraduate Economics Program Competition

First Place

  • Dina Megretskaia (Economics, Class of 2011): Investigating the Effect of Payment Medium on Consumer Spending.

Abstract: Much interest has been directed towards the credit card industry in the past several years, in part because of households’ increasing debt levels. I am interested in whether credit cards inspire higher spending, not for liquidity reasons but merely due to lack of salience of the amount being spent. It is my hypothesis that method of payment affects how much consumers spend, specifically that paying with credit card leads to higher spending than paying with cash. By conducting a field experiment with random assignment of payment medium, I intend to study whether there is a causal relationship between payment medium and spending amount.

Second Place

  • Sebastian Wai (Economics, Class of 2011): Tracking Semiconductor Inventors in Silicon Valley and Beyond.

Abstract: This project is a methodical, in-depth study on the origins of inventors in the semiconductor  industry. Inventors are identified through patent data, then tracked using both patents and  biographical sources. Data collected on inventors is then used to profile the hiring patterns of a  variety of semiconductor firms across the country and across the history of the industry. The  analysis focuses on geography, education, and employment history, as well as a defining feature of  the industry: interplay between parent and spinoff firms.

Third Place

  • Shweta Suresh (Economics, Class of 2011): Impact of Social Risk Aversion and Audience Effects on Generosity to the Poor.

Abstract: This paper is focused on understanding the impact of social risk aversion and audience effects on  generosity from the relatively well-off to the poor. By conducting dictator games, I have collected  data that measures how much people decide to donate to a disabled person or a drug or alcohol  user under different situations. My experiment modifies Christina Fong and Felix Oberholzer-Gee’s prior experimental design in order to better identify how the two separate phenomena of social risk  aversion and audience effects work to alter donors’ decisions, especially when they are given the  option to purchase information about the welfare recipient. Understanding these motivations behind people’s decision to donate is important because this information allows governments and NGOs to  better structure transfer programs.

Fourth Place

  • Akshay Upadhyay (Economics, Class of 2011): Increasing Reliability: Attracting More Clients to Microfinance Institutions.

Abstract: Dr. Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his efforts to break large  population groups out of poverty, through the formation of Grameen Bank. Grameen Bank provided  small loans to the poorest of the rural population in Bangladesh. Its goal was to spur economic  development from the bottom of the income chart. Dr. Yunus felt that making this credit available  to the poor would serve as a catalyst for improving their socio-economic conditions. Economists say  that, “Bottom-up initiatives like microcredit allow rural-based development,” which will help halt the  cycle of poverty that the poor are forced to deal with. October 2, 1983 marked the formation of the Grameen Bank, the first official bank for the rural poor. Since then, the industry has grown to  approximately 10,000 microfinance institutions serving over 113 million clients worldwide. Approximately 32.6% of the world population, or 2.2 billion people, are below the poverty line. The availability of microfinance institutions is known by close to 750 million of these people. But only  approximately 15% of these people are actually clients of microfinance institutions despite the  arising of financial needs. This presentation provides an analysis of existing policies on  microfinance loans. Also, behavioral economic anomalies will be used to propose a new policy on  microfinance loans in the hope of attracting more clients to microfinance institutions

SPRING 2011 Statistics Department Competition

Second Place Poster Session

  • Brittanie Boone (Economics & Statistics, Class of 2012), Erica Choi (Chemistry), Thomas Todd (Statistics): Investigation of the results from the Content Focusing Coaching study and Evaluating the Alternative Hierarchical Models.

Third Place Poster Session

  • Emily Boncek (Mathematics and Statistical Sciences), Yinglu Yao (Statistics), Xiaoyu Zhu (Economics & Statistics, Class of 2012): Exploring Learning Rates: Do Students Learn at Different Rates?.

Spring 2010 Richard Schoenwald Phi Beta Kappa Undergraduate Research Prize

Open only to members of Phi Beta Kappa, this award is sponsored by CMU's Phi Beta Kappa chapter and named after Dr. Richard Schoenwald, late professor of History. Dr, Schoenwald was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and a proponent of undergraduate involvement in research.

First Place 

  • Richard M. Katzwer (Economics, Class of 2010): Finding Nash Equilibria in Asymmetric Auctions with Resale: Numerical and Analytical Developments.

Abstract: This paper discusses new methods for solving for Nash equilibria bid-functions in several different types of related auctions: first-price auctions, first-price auctions with resale, first-price auctions with reserve prices, first-price auctions with reserve prices and resale and second-price auctions. Particular emphasis is placed on the new methods for solving auctions with a post-bidding resale stage. The first sections details the game theory underlying the Nash equilbria in each auction type discussed. The next section compares and contrasts the author's auction solving software, AuctionSolver, with previous contributions. Specifically, discussion is given to the numerical methods employed in solving auctions with resale. The penultimate section discusses several numerical examples and results in support of several conjectures made by the author as well as Isa Hafalir and Vijay Krishna. Special attention is paid to revenue comparisons between differing auction mechanisms. The last section discusses future avenues of improvement for AuctionSolver. The theoretical motivation for the work here is primarily given by prior research on resale auctions by Drs. Hafalir and Krishna.

SPRING 2010 Undergraduate Economics Program Competition

First Place 
(2-way tie)

  • Engin Levent Altinoglu (Economics, Class of 2010): Do Zoning Ordinances Affect the Distribution of Housing?.

Abstract: In his 1975 paper in Urban Affairs, Bruce Hamilton wrote about how his extension of the Tiebout model of housing predicts the institution of zoning ordinances effect the distribution of housing. However, not much is known about how well Hamilton’s predictions explain real world data. It is often assumed that the implementation zoning ordinances has the desired effect of producing individual communities characterized by a range of lot sizes, but few empirical studies have been conducted examining if this is true, or if an effect of their implementation on the distribution of housing really exists. This study examines data collected from Arizona’s Maricopa County to see if the implementation of minimum lot size zoning in ten of its largest municipalities has an effect on the distribution of housing, and if so, the nature of the effect. Using the Hamilton’s paper as a guide, the researcher’s hypothesis is that the zoning restrictions have a significant effect on the distribution of housing, resulting in bunching of housing near the minimum lot sizes within each municipality and a high ratio of variance across municipalities to variance within municipalities. The data included information about all lots in each municipality including lot size, property type, municipality to which it belongs, and property value. The results were somewhat mixed, but overall, the analysis suggests that the zoning restrictions have little, if any, effect on the distribution of housing. To summarize the important results, we do not see bunching of housing near the minimum lot size values in each municipality. The method of decomposition of variance indicated that, for certain regressions, the variance across municipalities is much smaller than that within municipalities. In conclusion, there is not sufficient evidence to conclude that the implementation of minimum lot size zoning has any effect on the distribution of housing in Maricopa County.

  • D. Scott Taylor, (Economics and Statistics, Class of 2010): Modeling the Price Dynamics of Catastrophe Bonds.

Abstract: This work modifies the assumptions of Burnecki, Kukla, and Taylor's paper "Pricing of Catastrophe Bonds" to build a pricing model for indemnity-based catastrophe bonds, allowing for the possibility of partial default.

Spring 2010 Statistics Competition

Third Place

  • Joseph Burgess (Information Systems), Alexandra Lecompte (Economics, Class of 2012), John Lee (Economics, Class of 2010), and Benjamin McGrath (Economics, Class of 2013): CMU Students' Perceptions of Distribution of the Mandatory Fees Across Non-Academic Resources.

Abstract: Carnegie Mellon University has compulsory activities fees as part of its tuition. However, the student's participation in deciding how to spend the funds is limited by institutional constraints. This research study will analyze CMU student's awareness and perceptions of how funds are distributed for non-academic resources. Moreover, the survey will evaluate to what degree CMU students might want to participate in the decision-making process. In order to make inferences about our target population most accurately, we will use the complete list of names of undergraduate students form the most recent copy of the student directory (C-Book) as our sampling frame. We will draw an SRS without replacement from this frame to form our sample.

Fourth Place

  • Da Jeong Ha (Mathematics), Hyemin Lee (Economics and Statistics, Class of 2010), and Kunho Lee (Mathematics): Correcting Aperture Bias for Star Formation History Estimates.

Abstract: The method of using spectra to estimate various star formation history ("SFH) parameters for distant galaxies is often insufficient for usage in astronomical research. For some galaxies, the spectral aperture is smaller than the angular extent of the galaxy, meaning that the spectrum will fail to capture some of the galaxies' light. In this case, the SFH parameters measured using such spectra will often be inaccurate, and such discrepancy between the true SFH parameters and their spectral estimates is called aperture bias in SFH estimates. In this project, we present a method that corrects aperture bias in three SFH estimates: the current star formation rate of each galaxy, the average ages and the average metallicities of the stars within the galaxy. Specifically, we model each SFH parametwe that was estimated from the spectrum as a function of the four photometric colors measured in the regions seen by the spectrum. Using this model, along with the photometric colors of the light missed by the spectrum, we correct the SFH estimates for their aperture bias. We use the spectral SFH estimate and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey photometry from a sample of 50,000 galaxies.

Spring 2009 Statistics Competition

First Place

  • Michael Albrecht (Statistics, Class of 2009), Vinith Annam (Economics and Statistics, Class of 2010), and Nicole Mattison (Economics and Statistics, Class of 2009): Brain Activity of a Sedated Cat.

Abstract: We are interested in determining the neural effects of an external visual stimulus on a sedated domestic cat. In this study, researchers make a cat look at a television screen with bars moving across the display, while filming the cat's brain to look for changes. However, the largest changes in the video are not caused by neural activity, but rather by the direct effects of respiration and circulation, which interfere with the cat's brain activity. Our objective is to remove these extraneous effects from selected parts of the original data, so that others can study the relationship between the external visual stimulus and the "corrected" data. Our approach uses Fourier analysis to isolate and filter out the periodic effects of respiration and circulation.

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