Alyssa Leibold

Alyssa Leibold graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics after completing the BS/MA Dual Degree Program. (Photo by August Jennewein)

There was a mix of excitement and relief earlier this month as Alyssa Leibold reached the end of her final college semester.

Leibold had been pushing herself hard the past five years as she earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in economics through the accelerated BS/MA program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

“It’s been a long, long road,” Leibold said. “I’m ready to move on with the next chapter in my life, that’s for sure.”

Leibold is also quick to say she got everything she hoped out of her time at UMSL.

Many of her friends in Illinois chose to stay on that side of the Mississippi River to attend college, but Leibold wanted something different when she finished her associate degree at Southwestern Illinois College.

She found it when she visited UMSL and even more when she decided to enroll.

“I think a lot of it is that the instructors here, they just care a lot,” Leibold said. “There’s diversity in the classrooms. It’s a city feel. Everyone comes from different backgrounds. With it being a commuter campus, we all have other lives going on. We’re all busy. We all relate to each other, and we’re able to understand different aspects of life from the people that we’re going to school with.”

Leibold was already committed to studying economics when she transferred. She found herself drawn to the discipline’s theoretical approach and complex way of thinking through problems.

She liked that she could earn both her bachelor’s and master’s together with only one additional year of schooling through the BS/MA program, saving some money in the process.

UMSL also provided great mentors for a woman looking to break into what has long been a male-dominated field – including Department of Economics Professor and Chair Anne Winkler, Professor Lea-Rachel Kosnik and Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Marie Mora.

“They’re very, very supportive,” Leibold said. “I feel like they push us to try to do even better because we have this sense of proving ourselves.”

The Department of Economics has a well-earned reputation for fostering camaraderie among all its students – regardless of gender. That made it easy for Leibold to feel at home quickly after she arrived on campus.

“I think it’s just the close-knit, family aspect of it,” she said. “We have the Economic Resource Center that we all hang out in. I see my classmates more than I see anybody in my family or my dog. We fight and we bicker, and we go get lunch together. It’s definitely become a family that will always keep in touch.”

Leibold worked as a tutor in the Economic Resource Center, helping other students absorb often-challenging material, while she also completed a minor in public policy and earned a certificate in applied econometrics and data analysis.

She found other opportunities to learn and develop her skills away from the classroom starting with her participation in the AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate program. She was placed at Justine PETERSEN, nonprofit financial services organization that helps low-income people get small-business loans as well as build credit. She gained experience in data collection, spending time surveying individuals over the phone.

Last summer, she landed an internship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology after learning about the opportunity through an UMSL alumni connection. She was supposed to spent the summer working in Washington, D.C., but those plans had to change because of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leibold couldn’t go Washington, but she still ended up doing research for NIST research economist Jennifer F. Helgeson on the application of Economic Decision Guide Software for university resilience planning amid the pandemic. She co-authored a special publication titled “Economic Decision Guide Software (EDGe$) Online Tutorial: University Pandemic Planning Analysis Use Case.”

“It was definitely a sad moment when I got that email saying it got canceled, and I couldn’t go to Washington for the summer,” Leibold said. “But it was still a good experience. I definitely think that it was worth it and worth my time. It’s very rewarding to have your name on something. I am proud of it.”

This year, Mora brought on Leibold as a research assistant supporting her work on the National Science Foundation grant for the American Economic Association Mentoring Program, one of the programs overseen by the AEA Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession.

“I hired Alyssa to track down the latest research on effective mentoring for traditionally underrepresented minority groups and women in economics and other STEM fields,” Mora said. “As COVID continued throughout this past year, she began focusing on learning more about the impacts of mentoring in virtual formats, which has clearly become increasingly important. I have been impressed and enjoyed working with Alyssa, and I have no doubt she will excel in her future endeavors.”

Leibold is still figuring out where her future will take her. She’s hoping to put her research and analytical skills to use on policy problems. She’s been applying to positions in Washington as well as warm-weather cities in Texas and Arizona, though she expects no matter where she goes, she’ll eventually find her way back to St. Louis.

“I’ve had a really good experience here,” Leibold said of UMSL. “I’ve made friends I’m probably going to talk to for the rest of my life. The instructors are always going to be a big part of my life too, not just as people that I can contact for jobs, etc., but also, they’re all mentors. They’re always willing to help former students.”

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik