Laura Dunn is a PhD student in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics. After completing internships at both the UN and Noble Group, she has her sights on working with a team to tackle the big issues in today’s world of agriculture. Here’s what she said in an interview.
Where did you study as an undergraduate?
The University of Connecticut. During my senior year of high school, my dad and I took a road trip and visited over 20 schools. When I visited UConn, I realized it had everything I was looking for: well-respected academics, a diverse student body, high-ranking athletic teams, and a beautiful campus—for the best price too!
What was your major?
I received a BS in agricultural and resource economics (ARE) with a concentration in business management. I received two minors in Spanish and environmental economics and policy.
Why did you decide to go to graduate school?
While looking at perspective jobs, I realized that I needed a graduate degree in order to pursue the career path that I wanted in environmental and resource management. During my search, I found interesting positions at Conservation International, the United States Department of Agriculture and the United Nations World Bank. There were a few skill sets that I knew I needed to improve upon, like statistical software data analysis, regression modeling and geographic information systems. So far my time in graduate school has equipped me with these tools and continued to open windows of opportunity.
Who is your advisor?
Dr. Ben Campbell, assistant professor and extension economist in ARE. I really enjoy working with him because his projects are focused on immediate application to the agricultural sector. I enjoy applied work and seeing project results being put to use.
What is your field of research?
I am concentrating in industrial organization and focusing on the regulatory climate for the agricultural sector in the Northeast. I am working with Dr. Campbell and students Adam Rabinowitz and Neha Paliwal to develop a regulatory climate index. This index will rank northeastern states based on labor, tax, environmental, food safety, transportation and land regulations as they apply to nursery, greenhouse, fruit, vegetable and dairy farmers. The index will weight the positive or negative impacts of the various types of regulations, like environmental or tax, and compare the aggregate impact of such regulations against the other northeastern states. Additionally, the Northeastern regulations will be compared to Midwestern regulations for a regional comparison.
Name one aspect of your work that you really like.
I like that what I am working on is going to be practically applied by next year.
Farm Credit East, a credit and financial services company for agricultural businesses, hired ARE’s Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy to analyze the regulatory climate for agricultural businesses in the Northeast. After receiving several complaints from clients regarding Northeastern regulations in comparison with Midwestern regulations, Farm Credit East developed this project in order to quantify their clients’ concerns and understand what type of changes in legislation might help support farmers.
This project has three parts: Summarize regulations pertaining to agriculture in each state; develop a survey and index for analyzing the regulations; and provide a report comparing Northeastern and Midwestern regulations. Right now, the first part has been completed and the next two steps are in progress for December. I was asked if I would be interested in working on this project due to my interest in the food policy. Having grown up in Connecticut and worked on a project for the American Farmland Trust while I was an undergraduate, I feel very connected with Northeastern agriculture and I am very excited to be a part of this project.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment so far?
So far, I would say my greatest accomplishment in graduate school has been finding two very different internship experiences for the summers. This gave me insight as to how I can apply my degree and where I see myself working after graduate school.
Working in Washington, D.C. as a food policy associate at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN FAO) was a dream come true and a very eye-opening opportunity. I was responsible for researching food waste in the United States and establishing a network of non-profit, private and public stakeholders interested in improving the US food-package date marking system. In the end, I drafted the US section for a larger global report on food waste due to date marking legislation in the European Union, Africa and the Pacific Island Countries. I was also given the opportunity to attend meetings at many different UN agencies such as the UN Development Programme and the UN Environment Programme. This helped me develop an understanding of inter-governmental organizations, and allowed to me see how different entities analyze problems (such as food waste) and implement solutions.
I was a Trading Assistant Intern at Noble Group this past summer, and it provided me with a lot of insight as to how I can apply my degree in the commodity-trading field. I was responsible for identifying all possible crude oil routes by pipeline and railroad between different pricing points in the US. I developed an Excel dashboard tool that computes the potential profits or losses for moving product between different origins and destinations after accounting for tariff costs. I was also given the unique opportunity of sitting on the trading floor next to oil liquids traders and was able to listen to the daily interworking of a trading desk. The experience really gave me insight into what working for a Fortune 500 company would be like and taught me a lot about my work-style preferences. After collaborating with many different people in the office, I realized that I enjoy coordinating team efforts rather than carrying out a project independently. I came to understand the strength of working as a team and sharing ideas for new and innovative designs for presenting information.
What do you hope to do once you get your degree?
I really enjoyed my experience at Noble Group, and I am actively pursuing future employment opportunities there. Just two weeks ago I applied for the global commodities trainee position, where I would be trained in all aspects of a specific commodity, like oil, within the energy or metals department. After being trained in risk management, market research, finance and trading, I would be placed in the area that best suits my abilities and personality. As a trainee there, I see myself applying techniques I learned in graduate school while still growing both personally and professionally.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
I’m proud to have been a Husky for both my undergraduate and now graduate degrees. UConn has been gaining more and more recognition, and it is amazing to be part of such a vibrant community.
I also have a creative side that not too many people know about. At one point, I almost went to college for an opera music scholarship! I am still an avid singer to this day and hope to join a choir again soon. Singing has always been such a huge part of my life.