Carnegie Mellon University

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May 26, 2021

Carnegie Mellon University Holds Annual Meeting of the Minds

On May 12, Carnegie Mellon University hosted the annual Meeting of the Minds Undergraduate Research Symposium. This year, the event was held virtually but still provided an impressive overarching view of the research undergraduates are doing across campus. Over 400 students presented as part of the first-ever virtual meeting, hosted in a Zoom format. The Tepper School was represented by 17 students in the economics and business administration programs. Their research covered an impressive range of topics that touched on everything from COVID-19 to European Stock options.

Carnegie Mellon University members were invited to join the meeting and celebrate the extraordinary undergraduate research and creative work that is taking place in every discipline across campus. The students presented their work through poster sessions, oral presentations, prototype demonstrations, and performances, and it was obvious from the outset that COVID-19 did nothing to slow down the research taking place in undergraduate academics. Students worked through the challenges to keep expanding their fields and inventing new ways to advance their research.

Some of the participating students also received funding to support their research initiatives, while other students received credit or did the research as part of a class requirement or honors thesis. The students are aware of the upcoming presentation from the beginning of their research, so they have the duration of their studies to prepare for the Meeting of the Minds. While many are required to present at the wrap-up event in May, several groups of undergraduates also volunteer to have their research showcased. Each presenting student group has a faculty mentor that assists in developing their presentation. Students also present with the other participating members in each of their specific programs. It is a unique and great skill-building event for the undergraduates to participate in. They not only have the honor of presenting their research but also build important speaking skills and learn how to explain their work for a broad audience that is not necessarily familiar with the topics.

Jen Weidenhof, Business Administrator and Operations Coordinator in the Undergraduate Research Office, helped in planning the Meeting of the Minds and said pulling off the virtual format was no small feat but a necessary undertaking. “It was a very different experience to host Meeting of the Minds virtually! We are used to taking over the Cohon University Center for the day, with hundreds of people coming through the building to see all of the presentations. We cancelled the event in 2020 due to the closing of campus, but we knew that we had to hold the event this year. We were glad to give students the opportunity to present on their research.”

The students who participated from the Tepper School were Harry Caffrey Maffei (UBA 2021), Alessandra Tully (UBA 2021), Lavanya Chawla (UBA 2021), Vicky Li (UBA 2023), Sonali Gupta (UBA 2021), Yiwen Chang (UBA 2021), Eric Tu (ECO 2021) Jack Dunbar (ECOMTH 2021), Tian Xu (ECOMTH 2021), August Chen (ECOSTA 2021), Xinle Zhang (ECOSTA 2021), Daniel Kornbluth (ECOMTH 2023), Pranay Gundam (ECOMTH 2023), Jingchun Quan (ECOSTA 2023), Xinyu Hu (ECOMTH 2021), and Timothy Kusuma (ECOSTA 2021).

The students’ research areas are highlighted individually below:

Harry Caffrey Maffei (UBA 2021) – Improving Sustainable Supply Chain Management Through Better Supplier Selection

Mentored by Joseph Xu, Assistant Professor of Operations Management, Harry Caffrey Maffei looked at sustainability in the supply chain. He focused on how a company could improve sustainability in the supply chain through the lens of examining the market conditions stemming from a business’s competitive environment. He explained how businesses needed to focus on criteria that would allow for optimal long-term partners like operational capacity and price considerations.

Alessandra Tully (UBA 2021) – Gender Equity in College Athletics: EADA Financial Reports

Alessandra Tully, who was mentored by Steve Karolyi, Assistant Professor of Finance and Accounting, focused her research on the more than 1,200 colleges and universities in North America that compete across 24 different sports in the NCAA. These schools are mandated to submit financial reports detailing revenues, expenses, and participation to the U.S. Department of Education. One of the most interesting and relevant questions Tully focused on surrounded gender and equity in athletics. Title IX requires schools to have equal opportunity for athletic competition for men and women. Many schools will solve imbalances by adding new sports teams for a specific gender. Schools can also opt to drop a certain sport to make the number of male and female athletes more equitable. Total expenditures and expenditures per athlete of each gender were shown to be affected by the dropping or adding a sport, regardless of that sports gender.

Lavanya Chawla (UBA 2021) – Matching Sustainable Development Goals to CMU Course Offerings.

Lavanya Chawla, mentored by Zach Branson, Assistant Professor of Statistics and Data Science, researched the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These global objectives are aimed at building a better and more sustainable world. Through CMU's Sustainability Initiative, Chawla helped the university to look at how education, research, and practice activities align with the SDGs. For their project, Chawla and her group performed various text analysis methods to map CMU classes from Spring 2020 to the SDGs

Vicky Li (UBA 2023) – Pricing and Hedging Non-Standard European Options

Vicky Li’s team, mentored by William Hrusa, Associate Department Head in the Mellon College of Science, aimed to accurately price and hedge the exotic European stock options using the Black Scholes Pricing formula with five inputs -- volatility, strike price, underlying stock prices, date of maturity, and the risk-free rate. Exotic options, unlike standard put and call options, have complex payout structures. The goal of Li and team’s investigation was to understand the Black Scholes’ asset pricing approach from scratch and apply it to price non-standard European options.

Sonali Gupta (UBA 2021) – The Effect of COVID-19 on the American Banking System

Mentored by Burton Hollifield, PNC Professor of Finance; Professor of Financial Economics; and Head of the Undergraduate Business Administration Program, Sonali Gupta and her group look at how COVID-19 has had a profound effect on the American banking system. After every financial crisis, government leaders typically introduce new regulations to safeguard the U.S. economy against future threats, and the pandemic is no exception. Gupta evaluated the financial services industry and future policy reforms with the goal of promoting stability and financial inclusion. After compiling data from news articles, academic papers, and webinars, Gupta proposed a solution that the U.S. integrate public government-backed systems with private institutions by incorporating postal banking into the current financial services ecosystem. According to Gupta, a partnership between mainstream banks and the postal system would not only bring banking services to every American household through the USPS’s existing infrastructure, but it would also stabilize the banking sector as the increased competition with the public system would hold mainstream banks accountable.

Yiwen Chang (UBA 2021) – Treasury Market Reformation

Yiwen Chang, also mentored by Hollifield, tackled the threat and damage caused to the health of the financial market by COVID-19. The financial market had primarily been affected due to the unstable corporate, municipal, and household cash flows. This instability led some investors to raise cash by trading high-liquidity assets, such as treasury and municipal bonds. The massive trading of the Treasury market caused a surge in Treasury transactions, which made it extremely difficult to trade Treasury notes at the time. Chang’s thesis investigated the causes of the disruptions in the treasury markets in 2020 and analyzed the potential solution to prevent the reoccurrence of such disruptions in the future.

Eric Tu (ECO 2021) – Examining the Economic Forces of COVID-19 through Grown Accounting and Labor Wedge Accounting

Laurence Ales, Associate Professor of Economics, mentored economics undergraduate student Eric Tu on his research this year that focused on the pandemic. Tu’s research covered COVID-19, the worst public health crisis in recent history, and how it became one of the worst economic disasters ever. Tu wanted to learn more about what was causing the economic turmoil around the world by using the tools of growth, accounting, and labor wedge accounting.

Jack Dunbar (ECOMTH 2021) – The Codetermined Firm and Automation

Also mentored by Ales, Jack Dunbar, a math and economics major, studied codetermination, which is where workers vote for representatives on a company's board of directors. Although codetermination is widespread in countries like Germany and has been proposed as a policy in the United States, the economics literature does not currently have a compelling model of it. Dunbar’s paper presented a model of codetermination where the firm maximizes the combined remuneration of workers and shareholders, weighted by their representation on the board. Dunbar found that codetermination increased capital and labor demand with increasing returns. He also determined that codetermination raises the laborer’s share of output, suggesting that codetermination may reduce income inequality.

Tian Xu (ECOMTH 2021) – COVID-19 and Its Impact on Consumption

Tian Xu, also mentored by Ales, focused his paper on a brief overview of how U.S. State governments responded towards COVID-19. The results of Xu’s study show that while strict lockdown helped control citizens’ mobility, as time progressed, people slowly resumed their behavior despite the lock-down measures. At the same time, while the severity of government response was highly correlated with reduction in consumer spending, reducing case figures was necessary to ensure a steady long-term recovery.

August Chen (ECOSTA 2021) – Modeling COVID-19 in the U.K. & SIR and SEIR Model Parameters Estimation with Alternate Data Inference

August Chen, who featured work in two different presentations this year, explored his findings on how COVID-19 has been disrupting human health as well healthcare all over the world but particularly in the U.K. The team’s research anticipated that we should expect this disruption to continue through next year. The team’s objectives were to find potential leading indicators, make inferences on U.K. COVID data, and learn how to predict hotspots. The team was mentored by Rebecca Nugent, Stephen E. and Joyce Fienberg Professor of Statistics & Data Science, the Associate Department Head and Co-Director of Undergraduate Studies, and Peter Freeman, Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Statistics & Data Science.

In his other presented researched, Chen teamed up with Ales. In this paper, he studied the spread of the novel COVID-19 disease and investigated the impact of the disease in different countries by developing two compartmental models: a susceptible-infected-removed (SIR) model and a susceptible-exposed-infected-removed (SEIR) model. Chen’s analysis took into account data from January 2020 to November 2020 and created a simulation of the disease. Chen found that although the SIR model provided a strong correlation with the government stringency index, the SEIR model performed better regarding the prediction and had more reasonable parameter results.

Xinle Zhang (ECOSTA 2021) – Short-Term Economic Impact of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPI) in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Also mentored by Ales, Xinle Zhang addressed the following questions in her research: 1.) How much more effective are earlier and more aggressive NPI in flattening the epidemic curve and 2.) Do countries that adopt earlier and more aggressive NPI recover sooner from the pandemic in terms of the economy? In their paper, the group defines two variables to assess the intensity of NPI and the speed of public health response. The team then created a dataset and used a panel regression model to quantify and assess the short-term economic effect of NPI on the global economy. From that model, they discovered a significant negative relationship between the intensity of NPI and the log manufacturing output, which indicated that NPI had a negative effect on the economy.

Daniel Kornbluth (ECOMTH 2023) – College Course Allocation Through Competitive Equilibrium

Mentored by Alexey Kushnir, Associate Professor of Economics, Daniel Kornbluth worked to develop two mechanisms for undergraduate course allocation based on the A-CEEI - the iterated market mechanism and the budget adjusted market mechanism. Through a simulation, Kornbluth showed that both of these mechanisms outperformed the commonly used serial dictatorship mechanism in terms of a range of student welfare measures.

Pranay Gundam (ECOMTH 2023) – Follow-on Drugs and the Free Market

Pranay Gundam’s researched tackled the trouble of the high cost of pharmaceutical drugs, particularly in the United States. The research emphases were on analyzing follow-on drugs and their competition-inducing effects. Gundam’s project began by charting follow-on drugs and tracking the rate at which follow-on drugs enter the market. Pranay then analyzed the tradeoffs and impact of other government strategies in Canada, France, and the U.K. to reduce prices in comparison to the U.S.

Jingchun Quan (ECOSTA 2023) – Structured Notes: Limiting Upside Gains in Exchange for Downside Protection

Jingchun Quan’s project looked at constructing structured note products that have advanced features to capitalize on the volatile financial markets that were observed during the pandemic. Their research utilized a collar strategy to set the floor of the investment at a certain percentage of the initial stock price and cap the gains at a higher percentage. The primary goal was to mitigating downside risk. Quan’s project attempted to optimize risk-return tradeoff while allowing the investor to capture the potential rises in bullish stocks while also limiting their risks by providing downside protection.

Xinyu Hu (ECOMTH 2023) – From University to Industry: Revisiting the Geographical Localization of Knowledge Spillover Effects in High-Technology Industries

Mentored by Ales, Xinyu Hu’s research aimed to study the knowledge spillover effect from university research to industrial innovation and the geographical limitation in the high-technology industry. The first portion of Hu’s paper used the estimation procedure. Hu obtained the estimation through a partially identified pair of simultaneous equations at the MSA level. Her analysis of the model indicated a positive and growing impact of university research effort on business innovation from 2010 to 2018 on a regional level. Using hypothesis testing, Hu found that the probability of a patent coming from the same geographic unit (country, state, CBSA) as the cited patent is significantly higher than the unconditional probability for patents assigned to universities or top corporations.

Timothy Kusuma (ECOSTA 2021) – Team Success and Altruism

Timothy Kusuma’s presentation investigated how effective success and failure can affect altruistic tendencies. Kusuma’s group set up an experiment using a combination of Qualtrics and SMARTIQS to see how people were influenced by their success and failure. While the team was still running this study, they discussed plans to use an instrumental variable to measure the effect of success and failure on altruism and how different combinations of significance could lead to different conclusions.