Meet undergraduate student Risa Lewis

Risa Lewis
Risa Lewis

Risa Lewis is fascinated by economics, particularly environmental and behavioral economics. She’s an Honors student, majoring in applied and resource economics in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. She’s interested in food sustainability and the behavioral side of economics as it relates to changing perceptions about sustainable environmental policy. Lewis is minoring in English and American Sign Language (ASL), yet still finds time to play competitive Frisbee as part of the UConn club team. Read more about Risa’s experiences as a UConn student.

What attracted you to UConn? I think, overall, the down-to-earth vibe, the location that meant easy access to an escape into the surrounding nature and the great variety of classes that come with a university of UConn’s size. My major is not something I found in many schools; likewise, my desire to continue learning ASL and about the Deaf community was realized in the great program UConn has, which is rare. I like to bring my own intensity to my studies and hobbies, and, to me, UConn had the resources and setting for that.

Why did you choose your particular major? At the time I was deciding on a college, I was really interested in the applied and resource economics major at UConn because it combined two of my major interests, economics and the environment. The application of economics to actually make a difference became something acute to me senior year in high school, where I learned about behavioral economics in an intro and was deeply intrigued by the fact that an area seen as calculating and theoretical could be not only applied to but based on the deep imperfections of humanity. Though my major does not incorporate behavioral economics in any large way, the emphasis on the intersection of economics and the environment will serve as a good basis for my future goals.

Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why? My UConn-led Sustainable Food and Environmental Systems study abroad experience in Italy last fall as a whole is something I will remember forever. But one of the most memorable experiences was working in a traditional Tuscan/Abruzzan restaurant that happened to be right below our apartment. Beyond our school-organized experience, I had the opportunity to help out another two nights, and the conversations I had with the employees and owners about food, politics and the simple joys of life were really illuminating about Italian culture—especially the emphasis on conviviality—and the social ties across all humanity.

Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies. One group I had only briefly joined before the end of spring semester is the UConn Subcommittee on Sustainability, but even simply being a part of the meeting was a really cool way to learn about real action that is being taken to improve campus sustainability, such as the “Ban the Bottle” campaign. Another set of interesting experiences were the trips we took in my Sustainability UNIV class fall semester of my freshman year. It was really eye-opening to me to see all the ways UConn addresses, and in fact excels in sustainability on the campus, including but not limited to the co-generation plant and the fuel cell at the Depot Campus. All of these experiences collectively inspired me to learn more about the ways sustainability could play a role in my studies and ended up being a catalyst to my decision to study with the program in Italy.

What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? To be perfectly honest, my UConn career is just starting. My study abroad experience was a great way to get a feel for what I wanted to pursue, and it definitely cemented my desire to do something with economics that is more than agribusiness—that takes a step towards addressing the way our society interacts with and views the environment. One of the greatest things I came away with after saying goodbye to Florence was that one of the biggest problems in addressing climate change is a seemingly insurmountable social aversion to change, let alone at the rate necessary to make a difference. Behavioral economics is a cool area for potential solutions to that problem, but I’m not sure that it fits as well into the subject of environmental policy as it has successfully with food policy. Accordingly, my biggest challenge is currently trying to find the best avenue to take with that simple goal of helping preserve the environment from the basis of economics, as there is not much of a precedent in my major for careers in environmental policy and economics, despite the concentration I am pursuing of the same name. However, the lack of a defined path is proving to be an opportunity to find a career path I truly identify with.

When do you expect to graduate? What then? As mentioned above, I am still looking into potential careers, but I am pretty confident that continuing to graduate school is a definite for me after graduating in 2020. Though the ARE undergraduate degree is a great place to start, for the kind of environmental economics research I am interested in (likely based in government policy), potentially including behavioral economics, I feel as though there is a great deal more to learn and experience.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? As far as non-academics goes for my time at UConn, the Swing and Blues Club and the Women’s Ultimate Frisbee Club take up a good amount of my time. I had wanted to learn Lindy hop for some time and I enjoyed helping to organize events as social media coordinator. As for Ultimate, joining the Women’s team was vastly different from my experience with co-ed in high-school, but the team has been a great source of support and drive to make every moment count, on and off the field. I was also fortunate to be a part of the first UConn women’s team to qualify for Nationals—I’ve had a fairly incredible first year and I was excited to return to Storrs for the spring semester.

By Kim Colavito Markesich