Jeff Strohl (PhD '02)
Why did you join the PhD in Economics Program at AU?
I finished my undergraduate studies at UMASS Amherst where I was introduced to neo-Marxian economics, which awakened my interest in obtaining a degree in political economics. At the time, American University was one of the five schools in the U.S. giving such a degree, so I applied here and thankfully was accepted.
Could you tell us about some of your experiences while at AU?
My experiences at AU were a mixed bag. At the time I started at AU the Political Economy (PE) track was not as strong as it had once been as sabbaticals, deaths, and retirements took away many professors from the department. Further, from a student's perspective, the department seemed fragmented in emphasis: some professors wanted the department to be more traditional while the remnants of the PE track kept practicing their trade. From this context, I learned the importance of becoming an institutional economist which certainly still marks my method; although I currently wear the hat of a labor and education economist.
Thankfully, I was able to study under Professor Meurs and was offered the opportunity to go abroad as a research assistant in Bulgaria. This trip served as catalyst to focus my interest in alternative economic arrangements. At the same time, I was working as a research assistant at the Education Testing Service (ETS), where my involvement in policy work honed my interest in education economics. Both of these strands came together in my dissertation which was a study of how education type (general versus specific) can enhance economic flexibility in times of crisis.
How did your career evolve after completing your PhD at AU?
I began working for Westat, a large survey and evaluation firm at about the time I completed my dissertation. This experience honed my already growing data skills and enhanced my career with experience in evaluation work as well as project management. My work at Westat ran the gamut from designing a model for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance to predict employment discrimination, to analyzing OSHA health and safety inspection records to test whether inspections have an impact on illness and injury rates. The most interesting part of this experience, working in a shop with few economists, was seeing that economists are held in high regards and are often paid a premium because of this.
How did you end up directing research at the Center for Education and the Workforce?
While at Westat, I sub-contracted with my old boss from ETS to design a model projecting education supply for the US House of Representatives' Sub-committee on Labor and Education. This work led to developing a model predicting the employment vulnerability to off shoring. From this work, we developed a research program that was fielded to several Foundations which are now funding the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown. Once the Center's founder obtained sufficient funding, I moved over to the Center to begin staffing up to put the program into action. How do you see the years ahead for you? As Lennon said: "Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans." If all goes well with our Center, the "Twenty-years later" version of this will discuss the Center's expansion.