TU senior completes undergraduate research project en route to a dual degree
With a competitive spirit and dedication to academics, senior Lauren Cahalan came to Towson University to pursue her degree in economics and political science and compete on the women’s gymnastics team.
Callahan also seized an opportunity more students are increasingly pursuing—completing a scholarly research project.
For her undergraduate thesis project, Honors College student Cahalan has been researching the effect of violence on workforce participation among women in Afghanistan.
She is one of many students featured in Research Week, running April 16 through 20, and is one of 10 receiving a 2018 Research Impact Award.
“Women are commonly labeled the victims of conflict, but there is not much elaboration on how they are specifically impacted as a group,” said Cahalan. “I wanted to be able to dive deeper into how women are impacted by terrorism, a combination of topics that do not normally get a spot light.
She compared violent attacks and employment data of Afghani men and women. While the study showed violent attacks decreased employment for both men and women, it disproportionately affected women, as female labor force participation is only about 19 percent. The data directly linked violent events to preventing improvements in women’s employment. Her analysis also showed that a woman’s dedication and decision-making power in her household positively affected her likelihood of going to work.
The results will provide insight for future research, such as analyzing women’s workforce participation over time. It also will provide policy-making implications for groups like governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) shaping programs and policies in Afghanistan.
“In doing this research, I frequently reminded myself that the data was not just numbers,” Cahalan said. “Each observation represents a woman much like myself, some of them my age. I easily could have been born into a different situation where I was one of those observations.”
Cahalan has presented her work at various conferences including the Naval Academy’s Foreign Affairs Conference earlier this year. After graduation, she will join Brown Advisory as an equity investigative research analyst focusing on understanding the environmental, social, and governance practices of a plethora of companies. She plans to attend grad school with a focus on international relations.
Her undergraduate research project prepared her well for both these endeavors.
“It has been an incredible growing experience and has opened up so many doors,” she said. “The process of writing an undergraduate thesis has taken passion, curiosity, commitment, and perseverance. While I have almost completed my paper, I feel as though I just scratched the surface of understanding what I want to know.”
Her experience was made possible and more meaningful by working one-on-one with her faculty thesis advisor, associate professor of economics Seth Gitter.
“Dr. Gitter has been an incredible teacher and mentor and I am beyond thankful that he was willing to take on this project,” Cahalan said.
Gitter says while the net monetary returns on advising an undergraduate research assistant are zero, there intangible benefits and potential gains to be made—mainly, the joy and fulfillment of teaching and mentoring.
“Working with Lauren has been one of the most satisfying parts of my job over the last year,” Gitter said. “Even as an economist I would say the experience was priceless.”