I would like to have a legacy of students who are educated to use data in meaningful ways to make a difference in the world.

Amy Wolaver

"The whole reason I like economics is because it's about human behavior," says Professor Amy Wolaver. "I am interested in the way economics helps us inform our real-world experience, not to just come up with some fancy model that doesn't answer real questions."

In graduate school, Wolaver gravitated toward health and labor economics with special consideration to how they are affected by public policy.

"Those issues very much intersect with public policy," Wolaver said. "I like to identify through empirical analysis problems that could be solved with public policy. I also look at whether the policies out there work, and whether there are unintended consequences of those policies."

Recently, Wolaver conducted a study using data provided by Geisinger Health System in nearby Danville. She compared medical records of people living in shale drilling areas to those in areas without drilling. She wanted to learn if the industry has significant, lasting effects on substance abuse and mental health problems.

"There was no consistent effect, or if there was, it died down after a year," she says. "Some areas had higher rates or decreased rates, and some areas had no difference at all. Now I'd like to look at why there was a seemingly negative effect in one area and not in another."

In the classroom, Wolaver discusses today's headlines so students can make sense of complex theories. "Economics can be challenging, so I bring in current events and topics relevant to their world to help them understand theories," she says. "I try to provide as many ways as possible for a student to get into the material and understand it."

Wolaver co-directs the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy, which sponsors informal lectures on current issues, including the Ukraine crisis and the effects of pharmaceutical pricing on access to medicine. The institute also fosters research opportunities that offer students hands-on experience collecting, analyzing and reporting data that is published and used to shape public policy.

"I want the institute to be a lasting option to learn data analysis, especially for students in the social sciences," Wolaver said. "Having a lot of data doesn't get you anywhere if you don't know what to do with it and don't understand the difference between correlation and causation. I would like to have a legacy of students who are educated to use data in meaningful ways to make a difference in the world."

Posted Dec. 1, 2015