Economics Students Isabel Pastoor ’20 and Elizabeth Kula ’19, Rank Top 5 at Conference

Every year, the Midwest Economics Association (MEA) conference invites undergraduate students representing colleges and universities across the country to submit research papers for a paper contest. While the conference was canceled due to COVID-19, the undergraduate paper contest continued. Two St. Catherine University economics majors, Isabel Pastoor ’20 and Elizabeth Kula ’19, were awarded honorable mentions and ranked in the top five papers.

Pastoor’s “Female Genital Mutilation and Women’s Empowerment in the Home: Evidence from Senegal” combined reproductive health, microeconomics, and bargaining power into one impressive paper. She used data from Senegal’s Demographic and Health Survey from 2005 and found a significant link, that women who are more empowered in their household through having more decision-making power, being the head of household, or both, are more likely to abandon the practice of female genital mutilation and prevent their daughters from experiencing it. Pastoor says that this information reinforces that “when women do better, we all do better.”

In Kula’s outstanding paper, she studied “The Effect of Unemployment on the Decision to Enter the Illegal Ivory Trade.” Kula says she was inspired to write this paper because of her ongoing passion for conservation. In her paper, Kula applied her St. Kate’s education by looking at conservation through an economic and social justice lens. Kula says that species conservation sometimes seems to be at odds with the livelihoods of people involved in illicit wildlife trafficking. Using the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) dataset, merged with IPUMS-International socioeconomic data, Kula found that on average, increased unemployment within an African district led to an increase in the number of elephants poached in the given year. This finding “supports the idea that economic development is crucial for the survival of African elephants,” Kula said.

Kula graduated in winter 2019 and Pastoor graduates in winter 2020. Both have ambitious post-undergraduate aspirations. Pastoor hopes to attend graduate school for economics and continue researching topics focused on women, development, poverty, and reproductive health. For Kula, she has been working in the St. Kate’s Economics and Political Science Department as program coordinator for the Minnesota Center for Diversity in Economics and as a pre-doctoral economic research assistant for Dr. Krafft. This August, she will be starting a Ph.D. program in Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota. She will be specializing in natural resource economics with an emphasis on biodiversity and endangered species conservation.

Since the conference was canceled, the St. Kate’s Economics and Political Science Department will be hosting a webinar from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. on April 20, 2020, where Kula and Pastoor will be sharing their excellent research. If interested in attending the webinar, RSVP to Isabel Pastoor at