Meet the ‘Godfrey Grads’

These UGA Economics alumni are solving problems and shaping the future
Laura Courchesne headshot
Laura Courchesne

The John Munro Godfrey, Sr. Department of Economics has a reputation for excellence that well predates its naming. Here are three of the many alumni using their UGA Economics training to make a difference in their careers and communities.

Making AI safe for the world

What do we call that space out past the cutting edge?

It’s unnamed. But that’s where Laura Courchesne (AB ’17) works.

In December, Terry’s most recent Rhodes Scholar started as head of strategy and operations at the Frontier Model Forum, which focuses on standards to ensure the responsible development and deployment of artificial intelligence (AI). 

“Advanced AI offers tremendous promise to benefit the world,” Courchesne says, “but the technology needs appropriate guardrails to mitigate risks.”

Courchesne was the first employee hired by FMF director Chris Meserole. Her role? Building a new organization. 

“I’m responsible for helping to scale an organization from the ground up,” she explains. “That means getting organizational policy, benefits plans, insurance policies and such in place while generating early consensus with our member organizations around best practices for AI safety.”

After completing her economics degree, Courchesne earned a master’s and PhD from Oxford. She did postdoctoral work at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Conflict while co-founding the Centre for AI, Data and Conflict. 

“I could have been an academic researcher, but I wanted to exercise a different part of my brain,” Courchesne says. “A lot of my PhD work focused on the implications of technology and how new technology can be misused. So, I followed that path.”

Courchesne grew up in New Jersey, the daughter of Canadian parents. She wound up at UGA for a simple reason. 

“Every single person was incredibly supportive from the get-go,” she says. “I met a lot of students who talked about how open and receptive the professors at Terry were to undergrads. I never felt like I was being talked down to. I felt the college offered space for risks, and I felt that people were excited about research. 

“Honestly, that confidence carried me all the way through my master’s and PhD work and on to where I am today.”

Where’s that? Well … it doesn’t have a name yet.

It’s out past the cutting edge.

Alex Edquist
A horse, a startup, an ecosystem

Alex Edquist’s (AB ’16, MA ’16) love for economics runs deep. She proved it when she named her horse “Milton.”

That would be for Milton Friedman, winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences. 

“Economics is my passion,” she says. “It teaches you to think about a lot of areas and break them down into the basics. That helps you tackle problems in real life.”

Edquist is applying her Terry training to a field of work that once relied on actual horse power. She’s co-founder of Good Agriculture, a nonprofit supporting environmentally conscious “regenerative” farmers. Edquist launched the startup after working nearly six years as an analyst and manager at McKinsey & Company.

“Good Agriculture involves helping farmers cultivate a whole ecosystem instead of just cash crops,” Edquist says. “Done right, farmers make more money, it’s better for the planet, and people get better food. The problem is that it’s time-consuming, and farmers have so much to do besides planting and harvesting.

“That’s where Good Agriculture comes in. We believe great farmers should farm. So we take care of the finances for them. … Good Agriculture is the corporate back office for farmers.”

Edquist had a taste of economics in high school, but her life changed during an on-campus interview weekend for UGA Foundation Fellows. At lunch, she found herself seated next to Chris Cornwell, then head of the Economics Department. 

“He was a good salesman,” Edquist laughs. “He convinced me to become an economics major.”

Much followed: A four-year Double Dawg program in economics. Roosevelt Institute. Georgia Political Review. Corsair Society. Deer Run Fellows. Women in Finance. UGA football (she’s a huge fan). An internship in the U.S. Department of Justice.

That internship, she says, gave her valuable experience, connections and skills. She wants to offer the same to others.

“We are always looking for interns to help our regenerative farmers,” she says. “Students who want to learn at a cool startup are welcome here.” 

Harin Contractor
Putting people at the center

Harin Contractor (AB ’04) knew he wanted to spend his career making an impact on people. Until his second year at UGA, he didn’t know exactly how. 

“I decided (majoring in) economics would better help me make a difference,” he says.

The sophomore-year decision would shape the trajectory of Contractor’s life. 

After Terry graduation, he earned a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Chicago in 2008. Workplace stepping stones — Accenture, Shore Bank, Booz Allen Hamilton — led ever upward, eventually to the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., as an economic policy advisor. 

Contractor could now energetically address key economic issues. Looking at indicators such as the unemployment rate, labor force participation and unemployment insurance claims, he worked with the Secretary of Labor on policy efforts to realign economic imbalances. 

He quickly proved adept at using analytical skills to derive creative policy solutions. Word also got around that Contractor had a knack for making the numbers connect to real people in understandable ways.  

Having established these strengths, he found himself in 2021 working inside the White House. As director of labor policy for the National Economic Council, Contractor led policy efforts on workforce development, college sports, post-COVID trucking supply chain improvements and much more.

Post-pandemic, Contractor saw an opportunity to enhance the American economy for all. That mattered deeply to a man whose mom had worked at Walmart for years supporting the family. 

A 2021 UGA 40 Under 40 honoree, last year Contractor left the public sector to become director of workforce innovation for the Burning Glass Institute, a think tank conducting research on the future of work, using data to align demand and supply signals in ways that put people at the center.

His passion still burns. “Economics has the power to (impact) the world,” he says. “I made the right choice for a career.”