Category: Economics

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.


William Breffle Named Michigan Tech College of Business Teacher of the Year

Enthusiastic, inspirational, and adaptable are how William Breffle’s students describe the economics professor and are attributes they felt worthy of the 2020-21 Michigan Technological University College of Business Teacher of the Year honor.

portrait of Dr. William Breffle

One student noted, “I have had Dr. Breffle for many courses. He cares about students, cares about the curriculum, and offers exquisite insight. The way he relates coursework to current events and trends is fantastic. He’s the best professor I have had at Michigan Tech.”

William “Bill” Breffle is an applied microeconomist specializing in environmental economics. Prior to joining Michigan Tech in 2007, he conducted economics research for Natural Resource Damage Assessments at Superfund sites.

Given the adaptations campus made during the pandemic, many of the undergraduate students who voted described Breffle’s ability to maintain a high level of teaching both in-person and over digital platforms, with one student saying: “He’s the best teacher I’ve had over Zoom. He always wants to lead students to the answer and loves class participation.”

Another student confirmed: “Dr. Breffle shows up to every class ready to teach. His enthusiasm is infectious and gives students energy to participate in class. It is clear he has a deep understanding of the material he teaches.”

Dean Johnson, dean of the College of Business, adds: “Dr. Breffle has consistently provided excellence in the classroom. We are pleased to be able to recognize him this year in the face of disruptions to the teaching environment.”

Breffle has published more than 25 research papers and 20 technical reports. Two of his journal articles have been selected for the International Library of Environmental Economics and Policy book volumes as “important and influential essays.” Another publication co-authored by Breffle is listed among the top 200 “most influential” research papers in the discipline of environmental and ecological economics.

His research focus is on the Great Lakes and their broader ecosystems that help shape the industries, recreation, and culture of the people who live near them. Breffle’s work aids in the development of policy management tools that sustain and protect the environmental and human-use services provided by these critical resources. He frequently involves students in his research activities. 

This is not the first time Breffle has been lauded for his teaching. In 2014, he was selected as the first-ever Props for Profs recipient. In 2015, Breffle was selected as a finalist for the campus-wide Distinguished Teaching Award—the University’s highest teaching honor—and he was inducted into the Michigan Tech Academy of Teaching Excellence. In 2018, Breffle was inducted by the College of Business into the business honor society Beta Gamma Sigma.

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.


Graduate Student Spotlight: Creating the Future of Natural Resource Economics in Mining

Josephine Amponsem, a master’s student in Applied Natural Resource Economics in the School of Business and Economics at Michigan Tech, is working alongside Emanuel Oliveira, assistant professor of economics, building a socioeconomic database with more than one million observations on factors impacting entrepreneurship. In addition to collating and cleaning data, Amponsem is using Stata, an econometric software for analyzing huge amounts of economic data.

Amponsem is also gaining hands-on experience working with Latika Gupta, assistant professor of economics, collecting and mapping data on energy efficiency in the steel industry. “We ask ourselves what is the data telling us, and how can it be used to make economic decisions,” Amponsem says.

Michigan Tech graduate student Josephine Amponsem
School of Business and Economics graduate student Josephine Amponsem takes a research break outside the Academic Office Building.


Lecture by Dr. Paul Nelson

DSCN0114

Dr. Paul Nelson gave a lecture on Thursday, November 16 entitled “The Current State of Competition in the United States” organized by the Economics Club with the support of the SBE. More than 100 people were in attendance including students, faculty, and members of the local community.  Dr. Nelson’s lecture described the rise of oligopolies over the last few decades and how innovation is pretty much the main hope to disrupt them.

For more information, visit the Daily Mining Gazette.