Emma Nix’s two master’s degrees lead to policy analyst position in Philadelphia

Emma Nix working in ERC

Emma Nix (at right) was a strong collaborator during her time at UMSL, where she earned master’s degrees in economics and public policy administration. Her degrees helped her land a job in Philadelphia, where she’s working as a state policy analyst at PJM Interconnection. (Photo by August Jennewein)

It all remained a little bit difficult for Emma Nix to believe.

She’d been staring at an apartment full of unpacked boxes last week in Philadelphia, where she was days away from starting a new job as an analyst at PJM Interconnection, a company that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity.

None of it – the location, the job, the dual master’s degrees completed last month in economics and public policy administration that made it possible – was part of a grand plan in 2010 when she completed her bachelor’s in, of all things, anthropology from the University of Missouri–Columbia.

Nix never would have imagined her future as she traveled the world, volunteering in South Africa or teaching English in Thailand, or even when, in 2013, she first enrolled in the Master of Public Policy Administration program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

“When I first started grad school, I thought I was going to end up probably in Colorado because most of my undergrad friends were there,” she said. “I thought I would graduate with my MPPA, get some government job there, hang out with my undergrad friends.”

It might be tough to point to a precise moment when Nix veered off that path, but it surely happened after she enrolled in a pair of economics courses required for her MPPA with an emphasis in policy research and analysis.

“I’d actually never taken an econ class in my undergraduate degree because everyone told me that it was hard, so I decided that I would steer clear of that,” Nix said.

But the experience she had taking Microeconomics for Policy Analysis with Associate Professor Lea-Rachel Kosnik and Public Sector Microeconomics with Professor Anne Winkler made her think she’d been missing out on something.

“I loved the subject, I loved that way of thinking and how you start having to consider scarcity and trade-offs in all your decision-making, so that really interested me,” Nix said. “Learning economics is trying to learn a new way of thinking, and I liked that very quantitative, very rational thinking.”

Nix wound up using her electives in the MPPA program to study more economics, including Kosnik’s course in environmental economics, Winkler’s in labor economics and Associate Teaching Professor Michael Allison’s in research methods.

She had little trouble standing out as a student.

“She worked really hard, always came to class, always asked good questions and whatnot,” Kosnik said. “And she always worked really well with her fellow students. She always seemed to have at least one or two friends in the class, and they’d work on problem sets together.”

More than once, Winkler would see her in the hallway at the Social Science and Business Building and encourage her to consider enrolling in the Master of Arts in Economics program.

“After like 10-plus tries, I finally acquiesced,” Nix said.

“I think that takes a little bit of courage as well as curiosity and open-mindedness to other ways of thinking,” Kosnik said. “It made her time here a little bit longer, but I think those traits serve her well and will help her in the future as well.”

She didn’t just add more economics courses to her MPPA workload. She also enrolled in mathematics courses, helping her sharpen skills she hadn’t used since high school or add new ones so she could fully develop her aptitude for quantitative analysis.

In the process, she gained a working knowledge of Microsoft Excel and Access as well as some programming.

Winkler remembered seeing Nix standing in front of a white board teaching classmates the program R as part of activities for UMSL’s student chapter of the National Association for Business Economics.

“She looked so remarkably comfortable,” Winkler said. “I could easily envision her as a future academic.”

In addition to her involvement with NABE, Nix – who benefitted from Graduate Assistance Tuition Scholarships, a Center for Transportation Studies Scholarship and a Simon Kuznets Scholarship during her time at UMSL – also served as the president of UMSL’s Women in Economics group.

Her resume includes professional experience as an intern for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and graduate research assistant positions with the Public Policy Research Center and Center for Transportation Studies. Last summer, she interned for the Economic Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, and she spent time as an economic research development intern for the St. Louis Regional Chamber while completing her master’s degrees.

As she entered the final few months before graduation, Nix had hoped to find a job combining economics with her interest in policy. She figured her best bet to do so would be somewhere on the East Coast, and she estimated applying to some 70 positions in various cities there during a stress-filled winter.

“I’m still actually getting rejection letters weekly,” Nix said.

Her friend Melissa Maxwell, a 2015 UMSL graduate, alerted her to job openings at PJM, which controls the energy grid in all or parts of 13 states – Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia – as well as the District of Columbia.

Nix was passed over for one such position with the company before landing another in PJM’s state policy department at the end of March, taking tension out of her final six weeks of graduate school.

“I’m going to be doing research on state policy and talking with state representatives, trying to create more energy-efficient, cost-effective, reliable electric sources,” Nix said.

It might not have been a job she had imagined five or six years ago, but she was grateful to have found it.

“If I hadn’t started in the MPPA program and had classes with Dr. Kosnik and Winkler, I don’t think I would have found econ and then been on the path that I am on,” Nix said. “It’s turned out better than I thought it would.”

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