Category: Faculty Research

Engineering Economics: One Student’s Journey to a Grad School Scholarship

John Ruf and a classmate during a DC trip
John Ruf (left) during a DC trip for winning the iOme Challenge, a national retirement security essay competition

Like many STEM-savvy Huskies, John Ruf came to Michigan Technological University to study mechanical engineering. When he arrived on campus from the Chicago suburb of Orland Park back in 2016, Ruf’s passion for economics was untapped. A series of unexpected opportunities during his time at Tech gave Ruf the chance to dive deeper into a newly discovered field.

Ruf’s initial interest in economics began with Free to Choose, by prominent monetary economist and University of Chicago’s-own Milton Friedman, followed by John Galbraith’s The Affluent Society. Ruf says, “I began to realize that economics is a mathematical and scientific discipline, not just something people argue about; it’s an endeavor to understand how people behave, trade, and make the best for themselves in a complicated world.”

It wasn’t long after that Ruf saw a poster for an MTU Economics Club meeting, and on a whim he showed up.

During that first meeting, Ruf learned from club advisor Emanuel Oliveira, an associate professor of economics in the College of Business, that many club members had graduated, leaving a gap in leadership. Ruf stepped up.

“At the time, I had not even taken an economics course, so I really had to learn on the fly, without any coursework backing me up.”

Ruf

As club president, Ruf reinvigorated the group by hosting regular meetings, moderating discussions of current economics events, and networking with guest speakers from industry. He was building relationships as well as knowledge. “Emanuel always took the time to teach me economic concepts and to introduce me to members of the College of Business,” he says.

Between the four economics courses offered to engineering students (one required and three electives), and his curiosity and club involvement, it was a natural evolution for Ruf to add an 18-credit economics minor to his résumé.

In his junior year, he landed a cost-management engineering co-op at Oshkosh Corporation, which blended econ and engineering. He’d continue that position into his senior year. In addition, Ruf became involved in the KHOB Economic Outlook Report, a research project studying the four-county region—Keweenaw, Houghton, Ontonagon, and Baraga— surrounding Michigan Tech. “We presented to the community and attracted the interest of policymakers—that’s when I knew that studying economics and using the data-driven principles we were learning in class not only mattered, but could make a difference in the world,” he says.

Ruf (far right) meeting with US Senator Debbie Stabenow (Michigan)

Balancing Studies and Leadership

Ruf, who served as VP of finance for Blue Marble Security Enterprise on campus, is the first to admit that managing the opportunities—leadership in student organizations, his co-op, research projects, and studies in both engineering and economics—was a challenge. “I had to master time management skills very quickly.” His econ underpinning helped with that feat, too.

The Blue Marble Security team

“The comparative advantage I learned in Jenny Apriesnig’s [assistant professor of economics] class helped me realize I could spend less time on my strengths—like data visualization and coding—and focus on areas I’m not as efficient at,” says Ruf, who wound up applying what he learned in econometrics everywhere, including his Senior Design engineering project.

During what was the most competitive application cycle in more than a decade, Ruf set his sights on an economics graduate program—and not just any program. “I applied to schools as far away as Italy and also to top US schools like Duke, Clemson, and the University of Chicago.”

​​The vast research Ruf conducted while on campus, he says, prepared him for top programs. With mentorship from Associate Professor of Economics Bill Breffle, Ruff conducted an in-depth study of the impact of broomball referees on game outcomes, producing a paper in the niche field of sports economics. He also was an integral member of Dr. Apriesnig’s research team—a study of local beer brewing: “Berries & Brews: Understanding the Market and Technological Processing Opportunities of Michigan Grown Fruit in the Craft Beverage Industry.”

He helped manage and motivate the team. During the survey stage of the project, John helped develop the questions, contact Michigan brewers, and analyze the results with econometric methods.

“I have never met another student with a more genuine curiosity for answering economic questions. Anyone that meets John immediately knows of his passion for economics.”

Apriesnig

The relationships Ruf developed with College of Business professors both in class and through hands-on research projects supported his grad school application process. “My professors advised me on which schools to apply to and they helped review my submissions, making them as strong as possible. They were also always available for pep talks when I started to doubt myself.”

He did it! Profs Sorcha (left) and Apriesnig (right) help celebrate the big day with John and his fellow 2021 grads!

Ruf earned admission to a University of Chicago PhD-prep program, complete with a valuable and hard-to-earn scholarship. In fall 2021, Ruf began the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences. The economics program accepts up to 36 students on average from a 1,800 applicant pool. Ruf’s scholarship will cover two-thirds of his master’s degree.

His ultimate goal is to become an academic economist. Some of his future research focus areas include using patent and shale reservoir data to evaluate the relationship between process improvements and reservoir productivity.

“At Michigan Tech, my mentors in the College of Business inspired me to use the tools I learned in engineering and economics to really further our understanding of the 21st century economy. At UChicago, I hope to make my mentors proud and showcase the best of Tech,” Ruf concludes.


About the College of Business

The Michigan Tech College of Business offers undergraduate majors in accounting, construction management, economics, engineering management, finance, management, management information systems, and marketing, as well as a general business option. Graduate degrees include the TechMBA®, a Master of Engineering Management, a Master of Science in Accounting, and a Master of Science in Applied Natural Resource Economics.

Brown Bag Research Seminar Series

The campus community is invited to hear Laura Connolly, assistant professor of economics, present ‘Labor Mobility and the Affordable Care Act: Heterogeneous Impacts of the Preexisting Conditions Provision,’ as part of our Brown Bag Research Seminar Series, Noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, September 29 in Academic Office Building room 101.

Laura Connolly

“The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) preexisting conditions provision ensures that insurance companies cannot deny coverage or charger higher premiums to individuals due to a prior health condition. We evaluate the impact of this provision on job mobility in the U.S. to determine whether the provision reduced job lock for individuals with chronic conditions. Our results highlight the heterogeneous impacts of the policy on different subgroups of the population. We find significant improvements in labor mobility among male household heads with prior health conditions, but no significant change in labor mobility among females. Declines in job lock are largest among families with children and household heads with relatively low levels of education. The results are consistent with the policy improving access to healthcare, and both mental and physical wellbeing, which ultimately increased labor market flexibility for some workers.”

About the College of Business
The Michigan Tech College of Business offers undergraduate majors in accounting, construction management, economics, engineering management, finance, management, management information systems, and marketing, as well as a general business option. Graduate degrees include the TechMBA®, a Master of Engineering Management, a Master of Science in Accounting, and a Master of Science in Applied Natural Resource Economics.

Elham Asgari Named Michigan Tech College of Business Gates Professor

The Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship in the College of Business is the 2020-21 Gates Professor.

The Gates Family Foundation partners with communities to address long-term quality-of-life challenges and opportunities. At Michigan Technological University, the position will support student engagement in entrepreneurial activities and contribute to the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

Elham (Ellie) Asgari joined the faculty of the Michigan Tech College of Business after earning her PhD in business management from Virginia Tech. Her research is at the intersection between entrepreneurship and innovation, and primarily focuses on the impact of upper echelons, star employees, and human resources on technological innovation. She has presented at the Academy of Management Annual Meetings and Strategic Management Society conference, among many others, and is published in top-tier journals such as Journal of Management, Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, and Expert Systems with Applications.



Her most recent paper titled, “Red Giants or Black Holes? The Antecedent Conditions and Multi-Level Impacts of Star Performers” was accepted for publication in the Academy of Management Annals in fall 2020.

Prior to entering her doctoral program, Asgari worked in industry, specializing in human resource management. She holds an MBA and a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

“With her advanced business and technical background, Dr. Asgari is well-matched for Michigan Tech. The College of Business looks forward to Dr. Asgari leveraging her Gates Professor role in support of the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Michigan Tech, the Keweenaw Peninsula, and across Michigan,” says Dean Johnson, dean of the Michigan Tech College of Business.

In particular, Asgari will promote two of Michigan Tech’s flagship student-based entrepreneurial activities, the immersive Silicon Valley Experience, and the Bob Mark Business Model Competition, in addition to supporting faculty and research in the entrepreneurial area. 

Of the appointment, Asgari says: “I am very excited about this opportunity and look forward to using the capacity of the position to enhance the entrepreneurship program at MTU.”

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The Michigan Tech College of Business is large enough to lead and small enough to care. Our faculty are active in research, yet build close relationships with students. Professors understand Huskies’ career goals and provide them with the knowledge, tools, and experiences to create the future. 

Professor Dana Johnson Retires

After more than 22 years at Michigan Tech, Dr. Dana Johnson, Professor of Supply Chain and Engineering Management with an affiliate appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, retired from Michigan Tech at the end of fall semester.

Johnson’s time at Tech dates back to 1976 when she was a freshman. After completing her MBA and PhD, Johnson returned to Michigan Tech as an instructor of accounting and finance in the School of Business and Economics.

Her career in industry spanned General Motors Corporation, General Physics Corporation, Grant Thornton, and Competitive Advantage, a consulting contract firm she owned.

At its regular meeting on December 14, the Michigan Tech Board of Trustees granted Johnson emerita status.

Earlier in the semester, Johnson served as opening keynote speaker for the 21st Excellence in Services International Conference (EISIC) held in Paris, France. In “Impact of Service Quality on Overall Patient Satisfaction,” Johnson summarized the culmination of multivariate modeling of psychometric variables as predictors of patient satisfaction. She was the first woman keynote speaker in the history of the conference.

Imagineering Audit 4.0 Researcher at Michigan Tech

Jun Dai is a visiting assistant professor from Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in China. She received her PhD in 2017 from the Rutgers Business School. Her research interests include applying new technologies such as blockchain, industry 4.0, and data analytics for the auditing profession.

Dai’s paper “Imagineering Audit 4.0” received the Bright Idea award in 2017, which is identified as one of the top 10 manuscripts for the year among all publications of New
Jersey ’s business faculty.

In addition to conducting research, Dai will be guest lecturing finance and accounting classes during her time on campus.

Earlier this month, Dai presented to the 43rd World Continuous Auditing and Reporting Symposium. The theme of the symposium was disruptive innovation in accounting. Her presentation, “Utilizing Blockchain and Smart Contracts to Enable Audit 4.0: A Case of Accountability Audit of Air Pollution Controls In China,” explored the potentials of using smart sensors, Internet of things, blockchain, and smart contracts to reengineer current auditing procedures to be more agile, precise, and transparent.

Dai serves as an associated editor of the Journal of Emerging Technologies in Accounting and has published in academic journals and professional journals, including Accounting Horizons, Journal of Information Systems, International Journal of Accounting Information systems, Journal of Emerging Technologies in Accounting, and the CPA Journal.