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UW Economists Awarded Fellowships for COVID-19 Research

September 3, 2020
UW College of Business building
The McMurry Summer Research Fellows program supports the top research faculty in the UW College of Business. (UW Photo)

The University of Wyoming College of Business has awarded McMurry Summer Research Fellowships to economists Linda Thunström and David Finnoff, in recognition of their outstanding research in the COVID-19 health crisis.

“Honoring the McMurry family’s incredible investment in the college’s pursuit of excellence, we were excited to launch the McMurry Summer Research Fellows program to support and acknowledge our top faculty in generating nationally recognized research,” says College of Business Dean David Sprott. “We are proud of being able to steward this incredible resource that has had such a significant impact in Wyoming and beyond.”

The McMurry Summer Research Fellows program supports the top research faculty in the UW College of Business. The fellowships include summer salary and research support. The McMurry Summer Research Fellows align with the College of Business strategic plan as well as the university’s goal to support and increase quality research productivity.

Recently, Thunström and Finnoff have been recognized for their extraordinary COVID-19-related research. The publication of “The Benefits and Costs of Using Social Distancing to Flatten the Curve for COVID-19” appeared in the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis and has received widespread attention in national and international media outlets.

Thunström led the research, which revealed that aggressive social distancing policies being used to slow the spread of COVID-19 are economically justified. Using epidemiological and economic forecasting, the study found the net benefits to be $5.2 trillion.

“Our benefit-cost analysis shows that the extensive social distancing measures being adopted in the U.S. likely do not constitute an overreaction,” Thunström says. “Social distancing saves lives, but comes at large costs to society due to reduced economic activity. Still, based on our benchmark assumptions, the economic benefits of lives saved substantially outweigh the value of the projected losses to the U.S. economy.”

Joining Thunström and Finnoff in conducting the analysis were Professor Jason Shogren, Assistant Professor Stephen Newbold and graduate student Madison Ashworth. The study has received close attention from policymakers and is influencing leadership response to the global health crisis.

“The explosion of research by our team in the Department of Economics has built on many years of related work by our faculty and students,” Finnoff says. “This recent work has been particularly exciting, resulting in immediately useful insights for individuals, industry and policymakers. First, we developed an understanding of what characteristics lead to social distancing programs being worthwhile but also the flip side -- under what circumstances are the programs not worth the costs.

“Second, we found that young superspreaders are not a real problem when it comes to testing -- they are some of the most willing to take a free test. The problem is that the age groups most at risk are exactly those least likely to take a test. Third, we have found a significant percentage of people are not going to take a vaccine when it is developed and deployed. This problem of vaccine hesitancy is going to lead to another set of complications facing society.”

In addition to the article “The Benefits and Costs of Using Social Distancing to Flatten the Curve for COVID-19,” both Thunström and Finnoff have published “Hesitancy Toward a COVID-19 Vaccine and Prospects for Herd Immunity,” which examines deterrents to vaccination and finds that inconsistent risk messages from public health experts and the White House reduce vaccine uptake, affecting its success within the United States; and “Testing for COVID-19: Willful Ignorance or Selfless Behavior?,” the findings of which strengthen the case for widespread testing.

Thunström earned her Ph.D. in economics and her Master of Public Administration and a master’s degree in economics at Umeå University in Sweden. She is an associate professor in the UW Department of Economics. Her research specializes in behavioral, experimental, public and health economics.

Thunström was the recipient of the Promoting Intellectual Engagement (PIE) in the First Year award in 2018. She also received the Crocker-Powell Young Faculty Research Award in 2017; the College of Business Outstanding Junior Research Award in both 2016 and 2017; and the UW Mortar Board Top Professor in 2016.

Finnoff received both his Ph.D. and bachelor’s degree in economics from UW. He is a UW Department of Economics professor whose research is focused on social investments that reduce risk in the face of uncertain natural disasters and recoveries.

In his work, he seeks to understand how coupled human and natural systems co-evolve over time and space in the presence of natural disasters, ecological recoveries, uncertainty, and diverse economic institutions and markets -- and how we can use information about that coupling to construct public policies in the face of current and future threats, and move society toward more sustainable outcomes.

Finnoff has received the College of Business Junior and Senior Research awards multiple times. He was the recipient of the College of Business Advisory Board Faculty Award in 2014, 2015 and 2017, and was awarded “The Buckle” by the College of Business for sustained high-impact research in 2018. He was awarded the College of Business Outstanding Senior Teaching Award in 2011; the UW Outstanding Adviser Award from the Mortar Board honor society in 2012; and the John P. “Jack” Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award in 2014. He was named Top Prof of 2009, 2010, 2017 and 2018 by the UW Cap and Gown Chapter of Mortar Board. He received both the PIE Award and the Outstanding Senior Service Award in 2019.

The McMurry Summer Research Fellows were made possible through the McMurry Foundation Business Dean’s Excellence Fund, which was created in 2008. Mick and Susie McMurry, of Casper, donated $5 million to the UW College of Business to create the endowment. The state of Wyoming matched the McMurry gift to create a $10 million fund. The endowment enables the College of Business to respond quickly to emerging opportunities and to pursue core initiatives.

“I am immensely proud and honored to receive this fellowship created by two special people who have impacted Wyoming and my family so much, Mick and Susie McMurry,” Finnoff says. “Mick and Susie have impacted Wyoming more than one could imagine, through immense economic opportunities; their deep belief in community service and infrastructure; and their incredible philanthropy throughout this state. To me, this fellowship epitomizes the values that come to mind when I think about Mick and Susie -- team culture, success and leadership. I could not be more honored.”

In 2020, the overall amount of summer funding for the College of Business has increased in comparison to previous years. In addition to the McMurry Summer Research Fellows, the College of Business will be awarding summer research support and summer research grants. These grants are aimed at supporting research projects from faculty members who are looking to start new projects or reengage in the research process.

Contact Us

Institutional Communications

Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137

Laramie

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-2929

Email: cbaldwin@uwyo.edu

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