Vontsolos ’15 wins Adam Smith Prize for economics

June 09, 2014 | Jenny Munro, Contributing Writer

Library_Duke_SC_083
Library_Duke_SC_083
Library_Duke_SC_083

Emily Vontsolos, a rising senior at Furman University, won the 2014 Adam Smith prize, awarded for the best economics paper submitted each year.

The award was presented at the Economics Department’s end-of-year picnic recently, said Ken Peterson, Ph.D., John D. Hollingsworth Jr. Professor and chair of the economics department.

Vontsolos, who is from Winston-Salem, is completing a summer internship with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She is conducting research, writing, and organizing an online curriculum with the New Economy Working Group.

The paper, one of about nine submitted, was judged by three economics professors, said Jessica Hennessey, Ph.D., assistant professor and one of the judges. Any paper written on an economics subject can be submitted for the Adam Smith Prize and is judged on guidelines including content, organization, economic sophistication, and argument.

“Her paper nailed it all. She was able to take all the research and analyze and evaluate it,” Hennessey said. “It’s usually pretty evident” which paper is the strongest.

“I was excited” about the prize, Vontsolos said, but “the gains I had from the paper were the learning. I grew so much in the process of writing it.”

She initially wrote the paper in a class on economic growth and development and refined and edited it during the past year. The idea was to select a country and present its growth narrative, including any unique aspects.

She selected Singapore. While attending the Asian Pacific Economic Forum in the fall, she met delegates from Singapore and was able to talk with them about the country’s economic narrative, its history, and its policies. She also discussed the country’s improving political freedoms and how that affects the economy.

“I have been interested in Singapore because it had such a dramatic growth narrative,” Vontsolos said, adding that she looked at the small country as a “gadfly” as Socrates, the Greek philosopher, defined them—people or systems that challenged society.

Her paper looked at Singapore’s history as a British colony and a port city, both of which caused it to be “integrated in the global economy and open to foreign investment” long before many small countries were.

Despite the dramatic success of Singapore’s economic growth, “I’m not a proponent on the one-solution-fits-all” when it comes to other countries modeling their economics on that of the small city-state.

She said she hopes her internship will help her determine the direction of her career when she graduates. She is considering both the non-profit and policy and research fields. “I want experience before I go into a master’s program,” she said.

The winner of the Adam Smith award receives $100, a coffee mug, and a certificate. Next year, the award will be renamed the Stanford Prize, in honor of Dick Stanford, Professor Emeritus of economics and his family. Dick is an excellent writer, and renaming the award seems like a fitting way to honor him, said Peterson.