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Undergraduate environmental and resource economics major Emma Abrams took part in research and study abroad experiences that enhanced her UD experience.
Undergraduate environmental and resource economics major Emma Abrams took part in research and study abroad experiences that enhanced her UD experience.

Eco-economics trailblazer

Photos by Evan Krape

World Scholar Emma Abrams explores sustainable solutions through UD’s environmental and resource economics major

Many people may not realize how tightly bound economics and environmental problems are. Because of their seemingly fated interconnectivity, the University of Delaware environmental and resource economics major is an interdisciplinary tractor beam for undergraduate students like sophomore Emma Abrams. The UD World Scholar is using her education to create a sustainable future. 

The coursework places a strong emphasis on the environment and sustainability, honing in on the economic aspects of pressing environmental issues. 

“The first time I heard of a major in environmental and resource economics was when I toured UD,” Abrams said. “It was exactly what I was looking for in a program. It would give me the knowledge and confidence I need to make policy decisions about the environment.” 

Christina McGranaghan, assistant professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics, feels that this program allows students to attain a unique perspective on environmental policy and economics. 

“Students acquire quantitative skills that give them a holistic view of the environmental problems we face,” said McGranaghan, who is Abrams’ academic advisor. “Understanding these problems and the policy angles that exist are crucial skills students take away from this program.”

Abrams is taking advantage of UD’s many undergraduate research opportunities through the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) Environmental Scholars Program. She is currently working with McGranaghan and her graduate student Laura Taylor on a project specifically about minimizing social pressure in coastal buyback programs.

Homes in areas that suffer from frequent storms or flooding can become eligible for buyouts. Most of these programs are voluntary and offer homeowners the fair market value of their home. Homeowners can choose to accept the offer and move away or to reject the offer and stay in their home. If the homeowners move, the land is converted into open space in perpetuity and typically used to create wetland buffers to protect other residential areas. 

In some states, the government offers financial incentives that encourage multiple homeowners in one area to move together. This means that if people move with their neighbors, everyone who moves will receive a larger amount of money. 

“With the project Emma is involved in, we’re studying how homeowners feel about these incentives,” McGranaghan said.

By offering group incentives, some members of the community may feel pressured to take the offer, even if they do not want to move. This social pressure that’s created can feel like coercion, which is undesirable in explicitly voluntary programs like coastal buybacks.

Emma Abrams (left) works closely with graduate student Laura Taylor on minimizing social pressure in coastal buyback programs.
Emma Abrams (left) works closely with graduate student Laura Taylor on minimizing social pressure in coastal buyback programs.

“Our project tests group coordination incentives with the goal of minimizing social pressure, for example by giving people a fallback option if the whole group doesn’t want to move away,” Taylor said. 

“This is cool for me to get to work on since I am from Charleston, South Carolina, and watch buyback programs happen firsthand,” Abrams added. 

For students in the environmental and resource economics major, reaching out to professors and participating in undergraduate research is very common and encouraged. 

“Our department has a lot of expertise in economics experiments; there are a lot of opportunities for students to participate in research and get hands-on experience,” McGranaghan said.

“From personal experience, I felt like the undergraduate program made a school with upwards of 24,000 students feel small,” said Taylor, who also obtained her undergraduate degree at UD. “Every professor in the department is so supportive, and I became close with professors even as an undergraduate.” 

On top of her involvement with undergraduate research, Abrams is involved with many different programs that enhance her degree. 

By spending a semester in New Zealand through UD’s World Scholars Program, Abrams was acquainted with topics related to environmentalism, sustainability and agriculture. The coursework ranged from economics, geology and environment and society. 

“We talked a lot about citizen participation in decision-making around environmental problems and natural disasters,” Abrams said. “We also all took a Māori culture class that impacted me as a person and how I think about sustainability and environmental justice.”

Outside of her coursework, Abrams secured an internship with Emerger Strategies, a sustainable business consulting firm, where she helps businesses reduce their carbon footprint and minimize waste. 

She also serves as the policy and outreach chair for Sunrise Movement, an environmental justice organization on campus. Student members focus on endorsing political candidates in Delaware whose campaigns value sustainability and green energy. 

“During the 2022 election cycle, all of the state candidates we endorsed ended up winning, which was a huge success for us,” Abrams said. 

Today, it can be easy to fall victim to feeling helpless when it comes to the compounding challenges of climate change and other environmental issues, but students like Abrams are determined to do something about it. 

“I appreciate my program because it has a concrete and quantifiable impact on the environment and climate change,” Abrams said. “There is also just so much opportunity that that program offers which is why I chose UD to begin with and why I continue to love the program.”

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