Monday, April 19, 2021

Brant Walker, who will receive a B.S. in mathematics and economics from the University of Iowa in May 2021, is the winner of a Fulbright Study/Research grant in economics to Germany for 2021-22

Hometown: Dubuque, Iowa
Award: 2021-22 Study/Research grant to Germany in economics
Degree: B.S. mathematics, economics

Could you give me a brief synopsis of what you'll be doing with your Fulbright? 
I will be working with a team of researchers at the University of Mannheim led by Professor Ulrich Wagner. The team studies the effects of the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), a key aspect of the EU’s policy to control climate change.  This cap-and-trade program is designed to limit harmful air pollution and provide an incentive for industry to decarbonize their processes. When working with the group, I will focus on a) if the EU ETS has improved ambient air quality, and if so, b) how the EU ETS has affected human health. Specifically, I will investigate the effect of the EU ETS on mortality, chronic diseases such as asthma, and health care expenditures, as well as if these effects are spread evenly amongst the EU population. Research on the effects of cap-and-trade systems on non-labor market outcomes is fairly limited; my research will help quantify possible social effects attributable to the EU ETS and create a more comprehensive benefit-cost analysis of a popular policy tool used to address climate change.

What drew you to this field of study?
When I came to the University of Iowa, I planned to pursue a career in mathematics. I eventually switched my focus to economics because it provides a wide range of options to influence the world and make a positive impact. Often, economics is characterized as heartless or obsessed with the stock market, but that is far from the truth (I know nothing about the stock market). I was drawn to this field because it provides tools one can employ to understand real-world phenomena and improve social welfare. These tools allow for robust, unbiased research in the social sciences, and can be used in political science, public health, policymaking, and much more. Basically, I enjoy asking questions about the world, and economics gives me a chance to try and find an answer.

My interest in environmental and health economics stems from my family and rural Iowan background. I often spent summers baling hay or working on my grandfather’s farm and developed a love for the outdoors and its intrinsic value. Additionally, my immediate and extended family have dealt with a variety of physical and mental health challenges. I hope to work in the intersection of these two fields and identify not only how our environment impacts public health, and also to highlight the inequalities in these two areas.

"This project will be a tremendous opportunity to engage in the research process and gain insight into how to address complex problems. I am most excited to be working with a team of scholars at the University of Mannheim, where we will collaborate and create partnerships that will last far beyond my grant period."

How do you envision this will influence your life/future career?
This project will be a tremendous opportunity to engage in the research process and gain insight into how to address complex problems. I am most excited to be working with a team of scholars at the University of Mannheim, where we will collaborate and create partnerships that will last far beyond my grant period. Working within this infrastructure will provide a solid foundation to build my skills, and I look forward to growing professionally and personally during my time in Germany. This will certainly be a challenge, but I look forward to facing it head-on.

What experiences at the UI inspired you to pursue a Fulbright?
I applied for a Fulbright grant because of mentors and friends who believed in me. My ability to pursue research at the UI with Professor Jeff DeSimone gave me the confidence to pursue an ambitious project. Thanks to our partnership, I have received research funding from the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates (ICRU) and the Public Policy Center (PPC). I also participated in the Summer Policy Institute within the PPC, and presented at conferences hosted by the Western Economic Association, Midwestern Economic Association, and the ICRU. All of these opportunities introduced me to research and helped me navigate the process of pursuing a new project in Germany.

Are there individuals you'd like to thank for their investment in this process?  
First and foremost, I need to give Jeff DeSimone (visiting associate professor in economics) the credit he deserves - I simply would not have accomplished this without him. I was wandering through the research world with no support until I met him two years ago. Since then, we have developed a great partnership and friendship, and I owe my success to his patience, kindness, and willingness to take a chance on me.

I also need to thank many others – I am simply a product of those around me: Qing Han, thank you for showing me the kindness and support rarely seen in academia. Alejandro Rico, thank you for pushing me to explore new things, reminding me to stay positive, and always being available to vent. My family deserves a lot of credit for putting up with my insane ideas of what I want my life to be and supporting me in the best way they know how. I became friends with many wonderful human beings during my four years at the UI, and I would not be the person I am today without their unconditional support. And of course, Karen Wachsmuth and the rest of the Fulbright Mentor Team, my application would have not been the same without their help. This was a team effort!

Explore the many funding opportunities open to UI students and alumni

Students are encouraged to begin their funding searches and applications at least six months to one year in advance.  Schedule an advising appointment with Karen Wachsmuth to discuss your interest in an international fellowship or begin an application (as a UI undergraduate student, graduate student, or alumna/us).