To Sara Gundersen, Ph.D., the study of economics is most exciting when it’s applied in new and unexpected contexts. Now in her sixth year as an assistant professor of economics at Valpo, Professor Gundersen shares that same excitement with her students in her coursework and in her extracurricular involvement.

Professor Gundersen takes students in her Principles of Microeconomics course to the Brauer Museum of Art for an activity and encourages them to find new ways to apply economics to the world around them. In the activity, students choose a piece of artwork that represents an economics concept and present their findings to the rest of the class.

“While economics and art seem to be polar opposites, I find that both tackle the same issues — describing human behavior and states in the world,” Professor Gundersen says. Many of her students say it was during this activity that the coursework they had been learning finally came together.

Art, however, is not the only field in which Professor Gundersen encourages her students to apply what they’ve been learning. She serves as an advisor for Enactus, an international organization in which students use entrepreneurial skills to improve their communities. During her time as advisor, Valpo’s team has worked with local businesses and organizations like Dayspring Women’s Center, Ironwood Brewing Company, and Glamour Hair Salon. They have received thousands of dollars in grants and this past year, the team won the title of Regional Champions.

Professor Gundersen’s research interests are similarly diverse, centering around religion and education in developing countries. This year, she and fellow economics professor Sedefka Beck, Ph.D., published a study examining the relationship between religious denomination and earned income in Ghana, which Professor Gundersen says can be considered one of the most religious countries in the world. Additionally, Professor Gundersen is currently working with Michael McKay at Assumption College on a paper exploring the relationship between teacher praise and corporal punishment in The Gambia.

“Valpo’s economics department is very special,” Professor Gundersen says. “Our faculty members have diverse interests, so students who obtain economics majors and minors will be exposed to several fields and ways of thinking.” It is through this kind of interdisciplinary work that the academic community gains a richer and fuller understanding of human activity in the world.