Katies rank among Top 5 in Midwest Economics Association Research Paper Contest

Kula, Pastoor — the first Katies to place in this contest — to present papers virtually on April 20.
Isabel Pastoor '20 (pictured left) and Elizabeth Kula '19 (right) were among the finalists for the MEA undergraduate research paper contest.

Isabel Pastoor ’20 (left) and Elizabeth Kula ’19 (right) were finalists for the MEA undergraduate research paper contest.

Photos provided.


Two St. Catherine University economics students made Katie history when they learned they were ranked among the top 5 submissions in the 2020 Midwest Economics Association (MEA) research paper contest. 

This is the first time a St. Kate’s student was recognized by the MEA’s competition, which is usually dominated by Big Ten schools. 

Isabel Pastoor ’20 and Elizabeth Kula ’19 received honorable mentions for papers that they first composed last fall in their Econometrics class taught by Professor Kristine West, PhD. “Isabel and Libby are really modeling how to take that economics toolkit and apply it to social justice issues that they’re passionate about,” said West. “They are using their economics training to make the world a better place.”

Isabel Pastoor, a senior who is double-majoring in Economics and Women and International Development, researched the role household predictors play in a mother’s decision for her daughter to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) in Senegal. She took a microeconomic approach to the issue by incorporating household power dynamics using quantitative tools. She wanted to dig deeper to investigate why this tradition continues and question why we are fixating on the characteristics of the infants undergoing FGM when it truly relies on family members making decisions in the household. The MEA acknowledgment for her research is “validating because, unfortunately, it’s common for women to have imposter syndrome and feel like we shouldn’t be in fields that are more quantitative and male-dominated,” Pastoor said. Thankful for the confidence that the interdisciplinary focus the St. Kate’s economics department taught her, Isabel hopes to conduct more applied research in graduate school, exploring women’s rights with an emphasis on reproductive health.

Elizabeth Kula, a recent graduate who double-majored in Economics and Mathematics, currently works at the Minnesota Center for Diversity in Economics. Her submission studied the effect that unemployment has on the decision to enter the illegal ivory trade. Elizabeth used her data analysis skills to look at ending elephant poaching, but doing so in a way that does not eliminate people’s money-making opportunities. She appreciates the clarity she has gained from this experience as she pursues a career to become an academic economist. “It’s important to ask yourself things like ‘what is missing? What makes more sense in this context?’ especially when it comes to literature reviews,” Kula said. She plans to attend graduate school at the University of Minnesota in the fall to conduct further research on endangered species and biodiversity conservation.

While COVID-19 led to the cancellation of the MEA 84th Annual conference, Isabel and Elizabeth will still get a chance to present their papers at a Zoom webinar to be held on Monday, April 20th, at 11 a.m.