The Mark A. Israel Research Grant from the Eyes of the Mentor

Isabella Parish

Professor Phillip Oberg and Thao “Jenny” Le
Photos: Illinois Wesleyan University

The Mark A. Israel Summer Research Fund is a scholarship opportunity offered by IWU and alum Mark A. Israel ‘91. The research program started in 2013 thanks to Israel and the University. The 2020 recipient of this grant was senior Thao “Jenny” Le, who  chose to conduct research about solutions for economic sustainability in low and middle income countries. 

The Mark A. Israel Summer Research grant allows students to pursue supervised independent research on an economics question of their choice. After this experience some students have gone on to complete more intense research throughout the fall and spring of their senior year. The experience can even benefit students with their future endeavors like graduate school. In graduate school, most students have to develop a thesis for research, in which case having already done extensive research would aid that process greatly.

Phillip Oberg is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics at IWU and has become involved with this grant program. Throughout this program he served as Le’s mentor. 

“It is a nice program because of the experience and the provided stipend and the support for students,” Oberg said. Oberg said that he feels that the program truly highlights how important undergraduate research is.  

Oberg also talked about the benefits the program has for students as well as the University community, 

 “This is a great program for the University because of the continued engagement with alumni along with the students because Israel gives amazing feedback. Israel is involved with economic consulting and has so much experience,” Oberg said. 

The research Le embarked on pertained to the determinants of economic volatility.  Economic volatility can be described as the rate at which the state of the economy varies and changes normally in a negative way. To further the research, Le went on to investigate the qualities restricting low and middle income countries from becoming high-income countries. 

The question of economic sustainability is very relevant in society, especially in today’s world with COVID. Economic growth as a topic is key for countries who are not as advanced as others. 

“The research has to do with more than economic growth; it is also about the people living in the lower income countries and how that affects their standard of living,” Oberg said.

Le’s research also examined the path to growth and its fluctuations because it is often not as stable in the lower income countries. Oberg stressed  how important this work is because of the lack of research on this specific topic. 

“There is so much research on the United States and Western Europe, so she had some guidance and then she filled an important gap for low to middle income countries,” Oberg said. 

Following graduation from IWU, Israel began a business career at State Farm, earned a doctorate at Stanford and taught at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management before returning to the business world.
Photo: Illinois Wesleyan University

The program relies heavily on the student. To be chosen for it, students must put together an intricate and clear proposal. Most students include a timeline to clarify their proposal even further. The orchestrators of the selection process do not put out an example proposal so it is largely dependent on the student to prove they deserve to be chosen. 

 The past summer was Oberg’s first time mentoring a student and the experience for him and his experience with this program was great. 

“For many students this is their first student research experience. I like to provide a decent amount of structure, focus, and encouragement,” Oberg said. 

This opportunity is open to rising seniors. The majority of the research is conducted over the summer with some carry over to the fall semester of your senior year.