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This year, the Graduate School recognized two Economics grad students among the 17 recipients of the Impact Award.  Congratulations to Teresa Zhou and Josh Horvath!

The UNC Graduate School provides awards annually to graduate students whose research has the potential to improve the quality of life in North Carolina and beyond.  These awards, known as the Impact Awards, single out the Carolina graduate students who through their research are giving back to the state, to the nation, and to the world.  As the Graduate School explains, “Doctoral and Masters students, working in close collaboration with their faculty mentors, pursue promising new ideas. They  then apply their new knowledge to improving human health, strengthening communities and creating greater understanding of our world’s biggest challenges.”

Teresa Zhou is a doctoral student in the Economics Department with specializations in health economics and labor economics. Her research focuses on the unequal distribution of physicians in North Carolina.

In 2015, The Sheps Center of UNC-Chapel Hill published a description of the number and distribution of physicians in North Carolina.  Its conclusion:  the state has an adequate number of physicians, but they are not well-distributed across the state, either in terms of location or in terms of field of specialty.  This is a critical quality-of-life issue for many residents of North Carolina.

In an effort to understand location and specialty maldistribution of N.C. physicians, Teresa used an econometric technique on physician characteristics between 2003 and 2012 to determine what attracts physicians to under-served communities and encourages them to stay.   Her results have important implications for policy.  Loan forgiveness policies are less effective at attracting physicians to underserved communities than an increase in the reimbursement rate for their services.  Crucially, an increase in registered nurses in rural areas significantly increases physician retention in the same rural area.

Teresa will be graduating this year with a Ph.D. in Economics, and has taken a job as Economist at Capital One in Washington, DC.


Josh Horvath is a doctoral student in Economics, with interest in education, labor and health economics.  His research examines the effects of the introduction of charter schools in a school district on the performance of students at the traditional public schools.

The North Carolina legislature authorized the establishment of charter schools in 1996, and there has been a spirited public-policy debate since then about the impact of those charters on the students who remain in the traditional public-school system.  Josh used a data set on math and reading test scores for every student in public school from 1997 to 2016 to determine if the opening of a charter drawing students from the existing school system has affected the performance of students remaining at the public schools.  Here’s how Josh characterizes his results:

Results show competition from higher-achieving charters has small positive effects and does not increase achievement gaps for disadvantaged students in traditional public schools. Lower-achieving charter competition has zero to small negative effects and increases achievement gaps for some disadvantaged populations. This suggests that the growth of higher-achieving charters does not negatively affect student achievement or disadvantaged students left behind, and may even be beneficial.”

Josh is also graduating this year with a Ph.D. in Economics, and he has taken a job at CNA.


You can read more about the whole cohort of Carolina Impact award winners at the Graduate School web site.

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