Explaining the World

Laura Simpson’s statistical analysis skills impacts health and education policies.

UNCG alumna, Laura Simpson ‘00, is a SAS programmer and analyst at the Division of Institutional Research and Analysis at UNC-Chapel Hill.  She has published several research papers on health and education and has been acknowledged for her contribution in others. Laura chose UNCG’s applied economics program because “it seemed more fun than accounting.” But, she had to work hard to get into the program.

As an undergraduate student of economics, Laura struggled with the macroeconomics course taught by Associate Professor, Dr. Ken Snowden. The department had strict rules for recruiting students in the applied economics program.

Undeterred, Laura took few math intensive quantitative classes and aced them. She had already interviewed for a bank job but that wasn’t something she wanted to do.

I wanted to do something different.

It was Dr. Stuart Allen – current head of the Departments of Economics – who read her transcript and asked her to apply for the master’s program. Laura had just one week to take the GRE test and submit her application. She breezed through it because of her exceptional math skills.

Applied economics was more than just adding up numbers. We looked into the basics of supply and demand. It started to explain more of the world to me.

Despite being a challenging program, Laura commends it for its smaller classes and supportive environment.

Some of the professors would be there all night working while we would be there all night working on projects. The professors were accessible to us even if we had questions at 3.30 a.m.

Laura wanted to conduct environmental research and interned for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where she did statistical work on asthma and air pollution studies. After graduation, she worked for Westat as a SAS programmer collecting longitudinal data for educational programs. Later, at Abt Associates, she got involved in the well-known ‘thimerosal study’ related to Hepatitis B vaccination and autism. She also worked on studies that evaluated volunteerism program for Corporation for National and Community Service and K-12 public education policy for UNCG.

I believe those of us in research have a responsibility. First, to make sure the research is accurate. Second, to ensure that our money is in programs that work. You can see that the work you do makes an impact.

Currently, Laura is working on institutional research at UNC-Chapel Hill. All the data collected has tremendous impact on the policy and decision making at the highest level and percolates and effects citizens, she points out.

Laura continues to remain in touch with the department. She fondly remembers Judy Tuttle, the administrative secretary, who is the “den mother” and who helps student network for opportunities.

We were a tight knit group. It was not an easy master’s program by any means. It’s the skill of perseverance that we were taught too, as well as applicable skills to do day-to-day jobs.

Laura also helps network and hire graduate students from UNCG. That was how she started her career, she says.

I feel like there is this connection even if I don’t know these students. I want out help them out. That’s how I got that internship with the EPA. There’s something that connects you to everyone from UNCG.


By Aparna Das, Contributor
Photography by Bert VanderVeen