Meet Valerie Hartnett ’22, from Cumberland, Rhode Island. An Economics major, Valerie is an exceptional student on a mission to use what she’s learning to support others. “I believe in people-first economics,” she says. “I believe that you can treat people with dignity and respect and still get the economic outcomes that you want.”
Valerie, who transferred to Bryant after earning an Associate Degree in Business Administration from the Community College of Rhode Island while working full time, doesn’t mind a challenge—which makes economics a perfect fit for her. “When you study economics, you learn about the whole picture and you see the background workings of so many different systems,” she says. “It really felt like something I could sink my teeth into and enjoy.”
Her focus is on developmental economics, a branch of the field that focuses on improving fiscal, economic and social conditions in developing countries. Courses such as Economic Growth Policy and Practice and Economic Development are helping her understand the nuances in systems that make a big difference in people’s lives. “Helping others should be part of everyone’s mission,” Valerie states. “One of economists’ main focuses should be answering the question, ‘How can we treat people better?’”
Real world application
Making transformational change calls for challenging preconceptions. “It requires you to look at things from different perspectives and reevaluate how you see the world, even if that means taking another look at commonly-held ideas,” says Valerie. A research project with Professor of Anthropology Alex Perullo, in which she worked with the state’s African communities to determine the social determinants of health that affect that population, aided Valerie, a Student Fellow with Bryant’s Center for Health and Behavioral Sciences, in seeing the real-world application of her studies.
“The Economics Association provides a community for Bryant’s economics students. It’s a place where you can make career connections or learn from professionals through guest speakers or just talk with other people who are as excited about economics as you are and share insights.
“My eyes were really opened by that project,” she notes. It also helped her hone her interviewing, critical thinking and data analysis skills. “When you conduct research, and gain real experience, you’re not just repeating what you’ve learned, you’re applying it and synthesizing it. It’s the best way to really understand something,” says Valerie.
She’s currently working on her Economics capstone project, which studies the “brain waste” that results from denying jobs to immigrants that would allow them to apply their skills and credentials. Her findings, she says, are a good reminder that even established nations need to take a hard look at their policies and strive to be better in order to best serve their people. “A developed country continues to develop and continues to have aspects that we need to improve or change,” she says.
Providing a community
This fall, Valerie will be joining Clark University’s Economics Ph.D. program with a full scholarship. She credits Lecturer of Economics Allison Shwachman Kaminaga and Professor of Economics Laura Beaudin with supporting her throughout the grad school application process. “They really believed in me and cared about my personal development,” says Valerie, who adds that they both wrote letters of recommendation on her behalf. The pair, she notes, have been invaluable mentors and advisors. “They’ve been kind of a fixture of my Bryant experience,” she says.
Valerie is excited to mentor her own students at Clark as a teaching assistant. “I really enjoy being able to connect with people and I’ve really grown to love helping people understand economics. My favorite part is when you can see the light bulb go on in someone’s head when they understand something they couldn’t before.” says Valerie, who tutors her fellow Bryant students through the University’s Academic Center for Excellence.
“Bryant has given me individual attention that I’m not sure I would have found otherwise.”
The first female President of the Economics Association, she also aids students in learning about their field beyond the classroom. “The Economics Association provides a community for Bryant’s economics students,” says Valerie. “It’s a place where you can make career connections or learn from professionals through guest speakers or just talk with other people who are as excited about economics as you are and share insights.”
Won’t be defeated
Over the course of her time at Bryant, Valerie has dedicated herself to embracing every opportunity. “I feel like I have a slightly different perspective then younger students sometimes do,” she reflects. “I know how important it is to make the most of your time and I think I’m most proud of just how well I’ve used my time here—all of the connections I’ve formed, the projects I’ve done, the internships I’ve had and the clubs I’ve joined.”
Those connections and experiences have already helped her stand out in her field. “Bryant has given me individual attention that I’m not sure I would have found otherwise,” Valerie says. “The focus on connecting students with faculty that can help them find personalized opportunities helped to make me a competitive graduate applicant.”
After earning her Ph.D., Valerie aims to continue her work as a researcher for a state or government agency or an organization like the World Bank—a place where she can affect policy that betters the lives of others. “I might not succeed at everything I try,” she says. “But I won’t be defeated.”