Macroeconomic Effects of Immigration Reform

This summer I worked with Professor Argudo of the Economics department studying the effects of immigration reform on the economy of the United States. Specifically, we were comparing the effects of the immigration plans put forward by President Trump and President Biden and their respective effects on the economy.

I worked with three other student researchers along with Professor Argudo on this project. The first objective for us was to load, clean, and transform the data to make analysis possible. We decided to use the SIPP (Survey of Income and Program Participation) data as a result of the breadth of variables included as well as the large sample it provided. Cleaning the SIPP data was very time-consuming due to the changes in the structure of the dataset that occurred in the timeframe of our years of interest. Therefore, the majority of the summer was spent on cleaning the data and in particular, matching the variables from different years of the dataset. It is not a perfect science; however, we were able to finish transforming all of the variables for each year enabling us to make a homogenous dataset for all years of interest. The next step is to analyze the SIPP data to allow us to make our conclusions.

My experience this summer allowed me to dive deeply into academic research for an extended period of time. I have worked as a research assistant before; however, since this was my full-time job for the summer, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the realities of economic research in the real world. I am very excited to continue working on the analysis portion of the project this fall where the effects of immigration reform on the economy will be illustrated further.

Sample variable transformation code

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Airline Competition

This summer I had the pleasure of working with Professor Qi Ge in the Department of Economics. The project focused on analyzing the effect of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which represents the largest systematic and exogenous shock to the airline industry to date. 

At the beginning of this summer, I inherited a database containing entry and exit announcements made by various airline companies from 2007 to 2015, created by previous research assistants that worked on this project. I helped update this spreadsheet by making a record of all the announcements made since then through October 2020, in the hopes of measuring the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the exit announcements. However, the announcements were not systematically documented during the pandemic, thereby resulting in a challenge of assessing the effect of the virus on the airline industry. When deciding whether or not to make an entry or an exit for a given route, an airline company takes into account its competitors’ behaviour as well. This is when we define the concept of entry threat, as the threat posed by a company which operates out of the two endpoints of a route but does not actually operate that route. 

Afterwards, I began a quest of researching existing literature on this topic, enhancing my understanding of entry threat in both the airline industry and outside of it. I then looked at two other phenomena: price dispersion and merger price effect. Price dispersion is more closely correlated with the initial topic of the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas the effect of mergers on price is an interesting topic to explore further in this research project. This summer provided me with invaluable insight on the airline industry and the economics concepts of entry threat and price dispersion, fulfilling my desire to enhance my knowledge in this topic.

Resilience Stories

Resilience is defined by positive adaptation, or the ability to maintain or regain mental health, despite experiencing adversity. (Hermann, 2011). It consists of effective coping and the ability to adapt and recover from the negative consequences of stress on health and wellbeing (Bonanno, 2004; Masten, 2007; Skodol, 2010, Tugade, 2011). Common markers of resilience are self-compassion, gratitude, growth mindset, and flexible grit.

I spent this summer researching resilience with Professor Tugade and fellow psychology student Lila Malin. We spent most of our time gathering data from existing positive psychology podcasts, webinars, and online lecture series. I focused on three podcasts: Happiness Lab, The Science of Happiness, and Ten Percent Happier. I also watched several sessions from the Wisdom for Life seminar series.

These happiness podcasts served as our inspiration

While researching the podcasts and webinars, we took notes on format, content, and demographics. Based on those assessments, we considered 1) what was missing from existing podcasts and 2) what we could add to the world of positive psychology content.

We developed an outline with some key topics and questions for our prospective podcast/webinar series. Using the outline, we conducted a couple of sample interviews, focusing on the effects of COVID-19 on various communities. I interviewed a friend on her experience navigating COVID within the theater and performing arts scene in New Orleans.

A sample interview I conducted

To me, this project highlighted the importance of resilience in our current times. In researching resilience stories, we discovered just how important it is to develop resilience strategies as habits. With regular practice, something as simple as identifying one thing for which you’re grateful can improve your mental health and happiness tremendously.

The Effect of Strategic Accusations on Assessments of Guilt: A Game Theoretic Analysis of a Simplified Among Us Game

The Ford project I worked on with Prof. Ho this summer studies Among Us, an online social deduction game that involves numerous strategic situations and exemplifies things like cooperation, betrayal, persuasion, and lying that are common in human interactions. We took advantage of game theory to analyze it theoretically and collect data from Let’s Play videos to gain a more empirical understanding.

The theoretical work started with a literature review on cheap talk models and lying, since we were attracted by the in-game chats during which players exchange (perhaps false) information. I then developed a simplified model featuring three stages, each corresponding to a part of the game, and connected by beliefs that are updated using Bayes’ Rule. Solving the model, I found several Markov perfect Bayesian equilibria that may describe how players interact in the game. This model will also provide foundations for adding players and strategies to the model to describe the original game in more detail.

Game trees for the first and second stages of the simplified model

On the empirical side of the project, I identified a preliminary list of 200 Let’s Play videos from YouTube and created a template spreadsheet to organize the information we would like to collect from the videos (chat transcripts, voting results, etc.). There is no good way of automating data collection as these videos vary in length and content, so we recruited workers from Amazon Mechanical Turk and volunteers from Reddit and Discord to help with filling out the spreadsheet for each video.

Parts of the data collection template spreadsheet

It was an amazing experience applying game theory to a real-life game and analyzing people’s strategic interactions from a video game, and I’m very grateful for the guidance of Prof. Ho. As more data is collected, we hope to find more about how people accuse/lie in the game and how other people respond to those behaviors.

Cuba on Film: A descriptive reference for research and study of Cuban films in the Thompson Memorial Library collection at Vassar Collection

Investigating the VHS collection at Vassar’s Thompson Memorial Library

I worked with Professor Augusto Hacthoun to inventory, investigate, and illuminate the Vassar Library’s collection of films by Cubans or about Cuba. We explored several avenues for developing our research, from scouring databases and studying copyright law to interviewing filmmakers.

We reviewed the library’s collection and compiled relevant films into a straightforward, searchable database. Nearly half of these films are on VHS, a format at risk of deterioration. Thus, I located distributors for DVD replacement copies and new films. I also gathered information on VHS preservation, which led me down a rabbit hole of studying copyright law. These sources will aid future efforts to maintain and expand the library’s film collection.

 

An interview with Michael Rubbo, the director of “Waiting for Fidel”

Moving beyond the library walls, we gathered information from film distributors, archivists, and filmmakers. We identified distributors selling films that could benefit the library’s collection. Certain films had no apparent distributor in the United States, leading us to contact sources such as the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC) in Havana and the Academy Film Archive in Los Angeles. We also contacted and interviewed several filmmakers. These conversations centered on each filmmaker’s works, as well as the broader practice of filmmaking in Cuba. These interviews proved to be very enlightening, and one of the highlights of this project.

 

 

Professor Hacthoun and I having a lively discussion

After amassing information from countless sources and individuals, I compiled it all into an online resource. I created bibliographies and browsable film categories on topics such as Cuba’s Special Period and AfroCuba. With this guide, Professor Hacthoun and I hope to make studying Cuban films easier and more accessible, even to those with no background knowledge. We want to emphasize that these films can be used in countless academic fields, as the many film themes and topics indicate. Ultimately, we hope to spread the word about Cuba’s rich history of producing and inspiring distinctive, innovative, and perhaps most importantly, entertaining cinema.

 

Our online resource, “Cuban Films at Vassar College”, is available at https://sites.google.com/vassar.edu/cubanfilms/

Below is a short video detailing one of our many visits to the Thompson Memorial Library’s DVD and VHS collections.

Documenting Oral History: Testimonies from Victims and Witnesses of Imperial Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery During the Asia-Pacifica War

 

This summer, I was able to have the honor to assist Professor Peipei Qiu as a Ford Scholar student in documenting the testimony videos of the witnesses and victims of Imperial Japan’s military sexual slavery from Sanzao Island, Zhuhai, China that she collected in 2019 with the assistance of Liu Changyan, a Senior Instructor of Zhuhai Golden Coast Middle School, who helped her translate the local dialect in real time for some of the testimonies. 

 

The Asian-Pacifica War (1931–1945) was a theatre of World War II that fought in Asia and the Pacific Ocean. Within this, the full invasion of China was ignited by the Marco Polo Bridge Incident on July 7, 1937. To occupy southern China and cut off the military resource supply line, Imperial Japanese troops occupied Sanzao Island in 1938 for over 7 years to use it as a military air base. During the Asian-Pacifica War, Imperial Japan had coerced a tremendous number of women from different countries into comfort stations to service the Japanese soldiers in occupied areas. Sanzao Island was just the same. 

 

 

We have testimonies from five Sanzao Island natives recorded in video and audio clips. The purpose of our project is to document these testimonies by assembling and adding English subtitles to them, so that these primary sources that are in native languages can reach the greater English-speaking audience population. The core of my work was to transcribe and translate the records with the assistance of Professor Qiu, Liu Changyan, and Huang Yuxia,a native of Zhuhai, to confirm accuracy and create a cohesive English-subtitled video of each individual’s testimonies. Professor Qiu and I would meet weekly and maintain close communication to discuss our work. I received a great amount of help from Professor Qiu in learning about the background of our project and proofreading the works. 

 

 

Creating New Approaches to Digitizing Historic Data Records: Aaron Mahr ‘22

This summer under the Ford Scholars program, I worked with Professor Dustin Frye and Andy Kasper ’23 to create a semi-automated approach to historic data collection. The site for the development of this approach was the County Business Patterns dataset, a record of business statistics in each county by industry. Prior to the later 20th century, this dataset was produced without the use of electronic recordkeeping, and these earlier versions of CBP exist only as physical copies and image-only scans.

For this project, we sought to turn these image-only scans into workable datasets, with the end goal of analyzing long-term changes in and consolidation of job availability by county. Because Optical Character Recognition software is prone to errors, we decided on a double-entry system, where outputs from both Google’s Tesseract and ABBYY’s FineReader could be combined, cross-referenced, and eventually consolidated into a singular output.

While Tesseract is freely available, it lacks ABBYY’s built-in ability to replicate tables; my work this summer focused on creating this functionality from the returned list of words and their positions on the page. Based on the results from this summer and given the greatly varying quality in the scans we used, I have a high level of confidence that this code could be expanded and generalized to be able to extract data from a wide variety of sources. While both OCR programs routinely make errors, they tend to make different, predictable errors (for example, “5,039” may be read as “S.039” or as “59039”, depending on which is used), and the reconciliation process to join the outputs from these two is able to take into account the errors each program is likely to make to produce a single dataset with much greater confidence than that from either of the sources alone.

Olmsted at Vassar: Tracing Campus Landscape History

 

In anticipation of the Olmsted bicentennial celebration in spring 2022, Professor Yvonne Elet and I are tracing the contributions of the preeminent Olmsted firm to the formation and development of the Vassar campus landscape. While Frederick Law Olmsted himself visited campus in 1868, the college periodically called upon the Olmsted firm for the next 65 years for their professional guidance in the ever expanding campus plan. As part of a larger project determining the collective Olmsted contributions to the Vassar Landscape over the years, this summer I embarked on a focused study of the work of Percival Gallagher, an Olmsted Brothers partner, who acted as consulting landscape architect from 1929-33.

Based on some 60 drawings from the Frederick Law Olmsted archive in Brookline MA, and extensive written materials collected from the Library of Congress and Vassar Special Collections, our study of Gallagher’s projects has required the collection, cataloguing, dating, cross referencing, and analyzing of this voluminous material. This research has not only indicated the effect Gallagher’s plans had on the rapidly developing terrain, but also has revealed the ways in which the still emerging professionalized field of landscape architecture related to a small somewhat insular institution such as Vassar. We are considering both where soil was moved, as well as how the bulldozer was directed.

As the inherent mutability of landscape makes it susceptible to perennial reimagination, a historical understanding of the campus situates our experience of present day landscape within a succession of visions. With this awareness, sites, paths, and topography all have greater meaning. Our work this summer, generously supported by the Ford Scholars program, will result in an exhibition on the Olmsted firm at Vassar, where much of Percy Gallagher’s work will be showcased. Caleb Mitchell.

Digitizing historic County Business Patterns data

I worked with Professor Frye and Aaron Mahr this summer to digitize census data from the 1950s and 60s tracking areas of employment in each county in the United States. When accessible this data will be valuable in understanding the development of America post WWII and Great depression. The data will allow us to track the geographic concentration of jobs across America, as well as a shift in the types of jobs. However, as of now this data is only in the form of scanned PDF pages from the physical books they were typewritten in. Hand entering this data is beyond time consuming and costly, so we worked on solutions to automate this process to be as hands off and accurate as possible.

An example of a page we were working to scan.

Using Optical Character Recognition software (OCR), we set out to scan about 4 or 5 years of data, with about 2500 pages per a year. We split the process into developing two different scans of each year, in order to compare later and create one master table. Aaron worked with the Tesseract package in R, while I worked on a process using ABBYY FineReader. Both of these steps posed their own challenges with some overlapping issues. For the ABBYY scan cleaning up places where the scan read poorly or the pages were faded was quite challenging and required some flexibility to design a process to fix or rescan those pages. Additionally we designed a process to use probabilistic matching link the scanned in SIC codes to a master list, making analysis and future table combining much easier.

Working on the project exposed me to the exciting push of research, data cleaning, and development. The process is always improving: working out automated or more linear approaches to previously laborious or confusing steps was very rewarding. Additionally, having the organization needed to plan a multi step process with many pieces was quite eye opening. While we only completed a scan of one year, the steps and processes in place will clear the way to the future scanning of later years.

Long-Run Economic Effects of the Measles Vaccine

This summer I worked with Professor Atwood and Ethan Ross to study the labor and productivity outcomes associated with receiving the measles vaccine during childhood. Our project was a continuation of Professor Atwood’s previous research, which focused on the United States. Her results showed increased earnings and employment associated with the measles vaccination, and this summer our goal was to replicate this research in other countries to see if the results are similar. Measles is a universal disease, meaning that geography doesn’t have an impact on how common it is, so our research could be done in any part of the world.  My focus was on England & Wales, while Ethan looked at Italy.  

Our time was divided between tracking down data and researching. The goal for data collection was to find data on measles incidence rates and population for a time period surrounding the rollout of the vaccine. For England & Wales, this time frame was 1950-1980. We were able to access digitized versions of this data for the 1950s and are currently in the process of obtaining physical copies from Cornell University for the remaining years.  Additionally, we wanted long-run data, including employment status and region of residency. In terms of research, Ethan and I looked at measles, its history, and the vaccine. For England & Wales, I researched the vaccine rollout, labor force participation (i.e. do we see differences between men and women), and internal migration.

 

While we were unable to get complete results in this short time frame, we were able to make substantial progress tracking down hard-to-find data and conducting research important to providing context to this project.