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Econ Major Wins Meier Award for Work on Preference

Sarah Brauner ’16 Won a Meier Award for Distinction in Economics for her thesis on preference theory.

“My thesis was a bit unorthodox for a math-econ thesis in that it was more 'mathy' than 'econ-y'—usually it's the opposite,” shares Sarah Brauner ’16, one of two winners of The Gerald M. Meier Award for Distinction in Economics. After receiving this distinction for her exceptional senior thesis, Sarah is now headed to Smith College's Center for Women in Mathematics for a yearlong post-baccalaureate program.

In her thesis, Sarah used sophisticated mathematical modeling to analyze preference theory, the decision-making rationale that is the backbone of microeconomics. Preference theory evaluates how individuals “make decisions based upon an underlying set of preferences for certain goods,” explains Sarah.

“Suppose that you are trying to learn how I would rank apples, bananas and oranges. You know that I prefer apples and oranges to bananas, but you don't know if I favor oranges over apples or vice-versa,” Sarah demonstrates. Imagine you want to find out her 1st, 2nd, and 3rd favorite of the three; then imagine trying to decipher her ranked preferences with even more types of fruit. Only allowing two fruits to be compared at once, Sarah considered the question-asking process as a sorting algorithm using a “partially ordered set, or poset.” Ultimately, Sarah examined the question-asking processes required to learn an individual’s complete preferences.

Now moving away from economics, Sarah will attend a post-bac program that aims to increase the number of women pursuing PhDs in mathematics. Citing Prof. Angélica Osorno [mathematics 2013—] as an inspiration, Sarah will begin applying for math PhD programs in the fall. She also thanks Prof. Kim Clausing [economics 1996—] for her continued support, and Profs. Jon Rork [economics 2010—] and Adam Groce [computer science 2015—] for their advice during the application process. About this year’s Meier Award winners, Prof. Jon Rork says, "not only did Ahyan and Sarah excel in their classes, they both undertook incredibly complex research that has prepared them for their post-Reed studies that start in the fall."

Tags: Economics, Math, Awards