Growing interest in Economics

October 29, 2013 | Erikah Haavie, Contributing Writer

Madeline Parks '14, from Arlington, Va., is an Economics major.(Jeremy Fleming)
Madeline Parks '14, from Arlington, Va., is an Economics major.(Jeremy Fleming)
Madeline Parks '14, from Arlington, Va., is an Economics major.(Jeremy Fleming)

Academics, clubs, study broad programs, small class sizes. Furman had everything Emily Hunter was looking for.

What she hadn’t decided on when she arrived at Furman was a major. “I dabbled in just about everything math- and science-related during freshman year and narrowed it down to economics my sophomore year,” said Hunter. “The professors were a large part of my decision.”

It’s a choice she’s glad to have made. “A major in economics will open a lot of job opportunities,” said Hunter ’09, who now works as an economist in the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C. “Furman enhanced my ability to learn and quickly grasp new concepts, which is key in my field.”

The appealing mix of analytical rigor and skill development continues to draw Furman students to the economics major.  The number of economics majors at Furman has grown significantly over the past 15 years and has continued to stay strong. This past May, the university graduated 35 economics majors, the largest class in recent years. The department expects to graduate between 30 and 34 next spring and between 38 and 40 in 2015, said Ken Peterson, professor of economics and department chair.

“Our curricular and co-curricular programs focus on the development of broad analytical, quantitative reasoning and communication skills, which are highly consistent with Furman’s liberal arts tradition,” Peterson said.

Approximately 85 percent of department majors earn bachelor’s degrees in economics, while 15 percent choose the mathematics-economics major, jointly offered with the Department of Mathematics. Over the past 10 years, the department has developed a number of 200-level economics courses that have a wider appeal, such as Economics of the Environment, Health Economics and Law and Economics.

“I really appreciate the diversity of classes offered and the varied interests of all the professors,” said Brittany Fulton of Bluffton, S.C., ’14, who participated in the department’s Hollingsworth Undergraduate Research program over the summer. “There are tons of opportunities to research other interests you may have within the economics context… Economics is incredibly versatile for whatever career I decide to pursue, and you can look at almost any issue objectively through the skills you develop.”

Aside from research opportunities, other extra-curricular activities give students exposure to “real world experiences.”  In the Investments Club, students manage $300,000 of Furman’s endowment and meet weekly to discuss the portfolio and present research on potential companies to acquire. Through the sponsorship of Canal Insurance Co., students and faculty attend monthly meetings at the Piedmont Economics Club which give them an opportunity to network with local business leaders from the Greenville area and hear presentations on economics topics. The Furman Economic Society provides additional learning opportunities for economics majors by arranging presentations by faculty and alumni that are tailored to students’ interests.

Hunter said she had several amazing opportunities while studying at Furman. During her senior year she was selected by Furman to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Lima, Peru, where she was able to meet with international business leaders and enjoy lectures by presidents and prime ministers from numerous Pacific Rim countries. As part of this experience, she also interacted with students from other APEC member economies, such as Mexico, Peru and China.

The set of experiences and analytical tools gained by economics majors makes them highly marketable. “You can apply the concepts and skills that you develop as an economics student to many different careers and graduate degrees,” Peterson said.

About one fifth of graduates enter law school after graduation, while one third embark on careers in the financial industry, including real estate, insurance, banking, finance and investments. The remaining students pursue a wide variety of educational and occupational endeavors, such as business, consulting, actuarial science, public policy, urban planning, hospital administration, environmental management, government and international development.

With such a range of possibilities, economics professors encourage students to start thinking about post-Furman life as early as possible. The department works closely with students to help them match their talents and goals with relevant academic, post-graduate, career and internship opportunities.

For Jack Lentz ’14, the preparation has paid off as his summer internship led to a job offer more than nine months before graduation. He’ll begin work as an associate in KPMG’s Economic and Valuation Services office in Atlanta next summer.

“It feels great to know that I have a job lined up for next year,” Lentz said. “While it takes off the stress associated with the job search process, it has also sped up the reality that this is my last year at Furman. So I'll have to make the most of it!”