At the time of the production of this profile, Diane worked as the Environments Policy Manager at the Institute of Emerging Issues.
Why study economics?
Economics is one of the most important topics that explain everyday life. It tells us why consumers and firms behave the way they do and how they relate to each other and to institutions such as the government. As two examples -- economics explains how firms react to different types of regulation and how the Federal Reserve’s monetary policies impact the interest rates consumers face when they go to finance the purchase of their house. Economics can be applied to all kinds of sectors such as healthcare, the environment and education. In nearly every issue or discussion people want to know who is impacted and how much something costs. All of that requires an understanding of economics. More broadly, economics teaches analytical and problem solving skills that employers continually search for in their employees.
2. What course/professor was influential and why?
Dr. Ed Olsen was the most influential professor I had when I was at UVA. I was part of the economics distinguished majors program and spent my fourth year doing a research paper on how announcements of money supply affect interest rates and exchange rates. I really enjoyed the research aspect of the work and wanted to continue as a research assistant in some capacity after I graduated. Dr. Olsen provided me the names and contacts of several organizations in Washington, D.C. that hire research assistants out of college and I was fortunate enough to work for one organization for two and a half years before I went to graduate school.
3. What made the economics department attractive to you/what made it special?
The economics department was special for a number of reasons. First, I really enjoyed the distinguished majors program and the small number of students that were part of that group. We socialized together and studied together and many of us had similar career interests. Second, I really had a chance to get to know my professors – Dr. Charlie Holt and Dr. Ed Olsen were two of them-- and I have even stayed in touch with them fifteen years later. Third, the department offered a variety of classes in everything from labor economics to public finance and all of these topics explored economics in a different way. There really was something available for anyone and now the department offers even more classes than when I attended UVA.
4. Your job title is Environments Policy Manager. In your own words, what is it that you do and how is your job related to your major?
I am the Environments Policy Manager at the Institute for Emerging Issues, a public policy organization housed at NC State University and founded by former Governor Jim Hunt. In my job, I work collaboratively with individuals from all sectors and areas of North Carolina to build collective action in energy, infrastructure, transportation and the natural environment. I also teach U.S. Environmental Policy, Written Communication for Public Policy and other courses in the MPA program at NC State University. Previously, I worked as a senior policy advisor for North Carolina’s environmental director and as a Presidential Management Fellow for the EPA.
The environmental and energy field is very divisive. Economics plays an important part of the discussion of what the state of North Carolina should do to encourage everything from the development of renewable energy to the deployment of broadband in rural areas of the state. The other factor that permeates most of the discussions I am part of is the role of the private and the public sector in solving energy and environmental issues. Depending on one’s viewpoint, there should either be a strong role for the government or the outcome should be left to market. The conversations are interesting and economics inevitably has a big piece of the discussion.
5. What is an interesting project you’ve worked on?
One of the most interesting projects I worked on recently was developing a workshop for about one hundred stakeholders across North Carolina on the implications of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) on North Carolina’s future energy footprint. The CPP’s carbon dioxide standards reflect “the best system of emission reductions” and each state is obliged to develop an individual program for compliance. This set of regulations serves as a national signal for the end of coal as the backbone of our nation’s energy needs. Meanwhile, the Plan also opens up enormous market opportunities for manufacturers of energy-efficient products and components of renewable energy systems. North Carolina’s manufacturers excel in both of these product sectors.
6. What advice do you have for students about their time in the department in relation to preparing for next steps?
When I was in my third and fourth year I knew I wanted to work for a while before going to graduate school but I didn’t know where or in what field. I found the professors an amazing resource to talk with about the opportunities available to economics majors. Dr. Olsen in particular was really helpful and provided me the names of over a dozen organizations that hired research assistants for two or three years. I interviewed with several before deciding upon Resources for the Future and that job has influenced my entire career trajectory.
7. What do you know now you wish you had known while you were majoring in economics at U.Va.?
I wished I had talked with more students who took different career paths following graduation. Economics is a major that leads to a number of careers. I never really considered consulting or law school but that was in part because I never had exposure to students who worked in those fields. I believe that the best way to find your path going forward is to get exposure to as many people who have different careers. Each time you learn something you don’t want to do it is a clearer path to finding what you do want to do.
8. Who (or what) has been influential in your career and why?
My graduate degree in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University was very instrumental toward my career path. I had an interest in policy issues back in the early 1990s when I left UVA and worked in Washington, D.C. but graduate programs in public policy then were not nearly as prevalent as they are now. I kind of backed into a public policy career after eliminating a Ph.D. in economics as one of my career options. My boss at Resources for the Future where I worked as a research assistant had contacts at the Kennedy School of Government and suggested that I apply there for graduate school.
9. What is on the horizon for you/other career goals you have in mind?
I have really enjoyed teaching public policy courses at NC State University and hope to continue teaching in the indefinite future. Since I’ve been working about twenty years in public policy it is fun to teach public policy tools to the next generation of professionals.
10. Tell us a fun fact about you.
I really enjoy running and have already completed five half marathons throughout North Carolina. I don’t think I’ll ever train for a full marathon but running is a great way to relieve stress and ruminate about things that require a lot of thinking.