Two chosen for AGEC’s top undergraduate thesis award


Hillary Vrba and Mason Gordon were selected for the 2020 Deb Brown Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Honors Thesis by the department of agricultural economics at Purdue University. The award winners were selected by the Honors Program Coordinator and Undergraduate Program Coordinator and the award is a recognition of outstanding undergraduate-led research in agricultural and resource economics. All completed honors thesis are eligible.

The award was established by faculty and members of the department after the passing of Professor Deborah “Deb” Brown to honor her legacy of undergraduate research. Deb Brown took over the agricultural economics honors program in 1990 and was known for spending hundreds of hours assisting her Honors students with their special projects and plans of study. Deb always tried to communicate the excitement of the research process and of scientific discovery to students while holding them to high quality standards.

This year two theses were selected for the award.

Hillary Vrba’s honors thesis examines the gross revenue of 499 small businesses in Mississippi that were impacted by Hurricane Katrina. The study found that several factors were associated with increased gross revenue, including perceptions of success before Hurricane Katrina, having an emergency plan, and stress and conflict between business and household needs. The work was conducted under the direction of Professor Maria Marshall.

Dr. Marshall said of Hillary, “Hillary asked insightful questions and I was impressed by her desire to learn everything she could about the research process. She was a pleasure to work with.”

Mason Gordon’s honors thesis examines the economic impact of the Indiana Stellar Communities Designation Program (ISC) grant program. The study tests for differences between ISC designees and finalists across a variety of economic outcomes, including assessed property values, per capita income, population growth, educational attainment, and public school enrollment. The study demonstrates the positive economic impacts associated with ISC designation. The work was conducted under the direction of Professors Michael Wilcox and Larry DeBoer.

Wilcox said of Mason, “Mason is passionate about rural Indiana and finding ways for all rural communities to meet and exceed their potential. OCRA’s Stellar Communities program offered a real-world opportunity to compare and contrast community outcomes based on participation in the program or the residual effects of applying. Mason set himself apart by working diligently and collaboratively towards creating a document that offered a robust and pragmatic analysis. I am proud of him, and I know OCRA was very appreciative of his efforts.”

Said, Dr. DeBoer of Mason, “Mason saw the property tax bill data file for Rush County with 681,000 data entries and said, “Thanks. Give me more!” I’m not surprised at all that his work was award-winning.”


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