When Brandon Harmer chose to double major in international political economy and philosophy, the last thing he expected was to be presenting a symposium for congresspersons in the nation’s capital.
But Harmer is D.C.-bound on April 22 and 23. The Fordham College at Lincoln Center senior was one of 60 students selected from 500 applicants for the Council of Undergraduate Research’s 19th Annual Posters on the Hill.
As Fordham’s sole representative, he will present his project, “The Likelihood of Greater Economic Integration,” to some 15 members of congress, more than 50 congressional staffers, and representatives from federal funding agencies in Washington, D.C.
The symposium was developed out of an international economics class that he took last fall. Under the mentorship of Shushanik Hakobyan, PhD., assistant professor of economics, Harmer turned a course paper into a finalist project in the Posters on the Hill program.
From the start, Harmer was inspired by Hakobyan’s teaching style, which was rigorous and valuable.
The professor mixed lessons from literature “with the nitty gritty mathematics of economic policy,” Harmer said. “It’s one thing for professors to present an argument to you, but it’s another to back it up with concrete numbers.”
Harmer’s interest gravitated to free trade agreements, and Hakobyan encouraged her students to delve further into their topics.
“I tell them to start very big,” Hakobyan said, “and then identify questions that will make your topic even more specific.”
Hakobyan recommended Harmer take his paper one step further by submitting the project to the council’s program.
“Brandon was interested in free trade agreements, and I thought his topic was solid and promising,” Hakobyan said.
She provided guidance to her mentees as they moved forward in their research.
“Students find out very quickly that research is very time consuming. You need to be hardworking and persistent because there are so many details to take care of,” Hakobyan said.
Harmer’s project focuses on the probability of trading partners moving toward greater steps of economic integration.
He collated specific economic data from all the countries in the world and analyzed the relationships among certain groups.
“We looked at information such as gross domestic product, and the distance between two countries,” Harmer said.
At his professor’s suggestion, he also delved deeper into other factors, such as contiguous borders—countries that share a border—and whether or not a country was a former colony of its trading partner.
Since Harmer covered all the countries in the world, his data was both comprehensive and massive.
“I think I might have actually broken Excel,” Harmer said. “I didn’t think it possible, but there weren’t enough cells to cover the data.” He had to divide the information out over four spreadsheets.
Harmer hopes that his dataset will someday be used as a resource for other economic research.
“My project isn’t here to argue anything specifically,” Harmer said. “It is to present facts, and it’s up to the policymakers to interpret the data and decide what they want to do with it.”
Harmer has participated in campaign work in the past for several assemblymen, but this will be his first time meeting legislators in this capacity.
“I’m very excited to go,” Harmer said. “It’s a great way to cap off my final year at Fordham.”
Harmer hopes to be able to combine his two loves—international economic policy and philosophy—in law school.
—Angie Chen, FCLC ’12