From the start, Laura Courchesne always felt at home at the Terry College of Business.
As a freshman she embarked on a research project with David Mustard, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor, about the economics of crime. Studying the factors for recidivism rates among prisoners with underlying mental health issues was an early defining moment for her at UGA.
“That’s how I started down the path of looking more at violence and moral decision making and how we can model decision making for violent groups in conflict settings,” she says. “For me, it just was this ability to start doing research right away. It empowered me to start looking at things in my own way and explore different ideas.”
For Courchesne, a Foundation Fellow from New Jersey, that immediate feeling of home is taking her places. Named in November as UGA’s newest Rhodes Scholar (the third Terry student since 2008 to receive such an honor), she’s taking what she learned in Terry about economics, leadership and big data to Oxford this fall.
Named the Terry Alumni Board Student of the Year, Courchesne graduated in May with AB degrees in economics and religion and is pursuing a Master of Philosophy in Development Studies in the two-year Oxford program as she focuses on the role of resources and aid in contemporary armed conflict.
Courchesne tailored her college career to gain the academic foundation and research experience in fields such as economics, psychology, international affairs and religion, including a Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities fellowship, which all prepared her for the Rhodes experience.
“It is extremely rare for a student to be so skilled and interested in each of these areas that she can perform at such a high level in these varied contexts,” Mustard says.
Terry College courses, such as econometrics and social network analysis, strengthened her quantitative skills and ability to analyze the effect of broader economic trends.
“I’m so passionate about the work that I’m doing that it never really seems like work,” she says. “I’ve always felt like I can connect it to my future goals and what I want to do long-term.”
Courchesne applied those skills and principles of behavioral economics to research roles with the International Committee of the Red Cross, Oxford’s Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, and the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Her long-term goals are to develop models of violent group dynamics and decision-making that can be applied to military and foreign policy.
“A differentiator for me is how much excitement comes through in the way she talks about learning and understanding and how much enthusiasm she shows for being engaged in solving real-world problems,” says Chris Cornwell, head of the Economics Department.
Mustard describes Courchesne as an “academic entrepreneur” who combines academic fields and methods to study problems involving conflict.
“What’s great about Terry is that we have so many amazing academics,” Courchesne says. “The Economics Department is fantastic and the research they’re doing is fantastic, so it’s been great to have that blend of both practical skills and application along with some more theoretical components.”
Her first year at Oxford will include courses in economics, history, politics and sociology to further learn how people in impoverished countries view themselves and how introducing aid can be most effective in changing behaviors and promoting economic growth and stabilization.
She plans to continue to work for Oxford’s Changing Character of War Programme, where she researched as an undergrad how environments, resources, civilians and the presence of formal governance shape the organizational framework of non-state armed groups.
In summer 2018, she will conduct field work in her own individualized program that will be the basis of her thesis, possibly traveling to Afghanistan, Pakistan or China. She will complete her MPhil in 2019.
Along with delving into reading assignments before the fall semester begins at Oxford, she hopes to build on the field work she conducted last summer in Indonesia with another visit to the country. This summer, she also plans to participate in the Hertog War Studies Program — hosted by the Institute for the Study of War — in Washington, D.C., and her second time facilitating an Oxford leadership conference with top officials in foreign militaries, including Colombia and Pakistan.
Courchesne set high goals not only for her future, but in her Terry courses and as a Leonard Leadership Scholar, says management professor Laura Little, director of the Institute for Leadership Advancement. ILA’s mission is to develop values-based, impact-driven leaders.
“Laura is probably the definition of that. She has clear focus on both — values and impact,” Little says. “She’s very determined in making a difference. It’s not a drive for personal recognition or personal success. It’s really a drive to make a difference in the world, to understand the world better and to add value to it. She knows who she is and what she wants to do.”
Terry professors helped guide Courchesne to Oxford. Terry faculty provided interview preparation for the Rhodes and continue to help hone her quantitative skills and ways to leverage the next two years to prepare for her next step, likely a Ph.D.
“They’re always there to point me in the right direction,” she says. “It’s definitely a huge group effort of people that have supported me over the past four years and really helped me find my voice and figure out what it is that I want to do.”