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Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics


AEDE Profiles: Jack Willoughby

We recently sat down with AEDE master’s program student Jack Willoughby, a Princeton, New Jersey native and First Team Academic All-American, to talk all things football, applied economics, and life after graduation. Check out our Q & A with him.

You are a member of our school’s famous football team. Tell us about this experience and how you made it to Ohio State.

I originally played football at Duke University as an undergrad where I was a double major in economics and statistics. I went to Duke having never previously played football. I had always played sports and I was on the soccer team in high school. I was planning on playing soccer in college but I was also a huge college football fan. My grandfather played at the University of Oregon and I grew up loving college football. I thought I could either be a bench player on the Duke soccer team or take a shot at kicking a football as I could always kick a soccer ball pretty straight and far. I thought it would be pretty awesome to live out a dream of mine and try to play collegiate football. So, I bought an instructional DVD and taught myself how to kick and then managed to walk on to the Duke team as a freshman.

At first I was the fourth string kicker at Duke, however the three kickers ahead of me were seniors when I was a freshman and they graduated. Before my second season, Duke recruited the number one kicker in the country, so for most of my sophomore and junior years I backed him up. However, at the end of my junior year I started to do kickoffs for the team while he kicked field goals. We continued this way through my senior year.

By the end of my football career at Duke I had never kicked a field goal in my life in a competitive game and I really wanted to. So, I decided that I would try to look around and see if I could find a good team with a need for someone like me who can do kickoffs and who could also have a shot at kicking field goals. I made a list of all of the schools that I would want to play for, then I started doing research to see if they had quality kickers and if they might have a need for someone with my skills. I put together a highlight tape and sent it out to a bunch of coaches. I heard back from schools and underwent the first recruiting process of my life. I decided on Ohio State based on both the football and academic opportunities that I felt that I could take advantage of here.

When I arrived I was in a kicking competition with the incumbent kicker, Sean Nuernberger. Sean, by the way, has become one of my best friends at Ohio State. I ended up starting on both kickoffs and field goals for the first nine games of the season while Sean started on field goals in the last three games and I continued to do kickoffs.

Wow, that’s a pretty incredible story. So, tell us why you chose AEDE for your graduate studies at Ohio State.

I chose the AEDE program in applied economics because I think that to really make change in the world one needs the practical knowledge of how to apply economics to the issues facing our global community today. I thought that this program would teach me how to apply economics to correct inefficiencies in things like trade, environmental resource allocation, and agriculture. I knew that these skills would also translate well to other fields.

Before starting the program I also didn’t know much about agriculture, the environment, and resource allocation, and I knew that through this program I would get to learn about these areas and how to apply economics to challenges in these fields.

Finally, I thought studying applied economics at the graduate level would be fun and intellectually stimulating. I was also attracted to the fact that I could complete the degree in one year.

What have been some of your favorite things about studying in our applied economics program?

I like the fact that the MS program enrolls students from a variety of backgrounds. Personally, I have a lot of experience in economics and statistics from my undergraduate studies. However, during that program I had very little interaction with topics such as agriculture, the environment, resource allocation, as well as international trade and development. However, compared to me others that I have met in the program have less background in economics but considerably more background in fields such as agriculture, sustainability, or trade. It’s an interesting mix of backgrounds and perspectives that students bring to the table and I have learned a lot from my interactions with other students in the program.

I also appreciate the fact that I have learned a lot about applied economics beyond theoretical economics.

One of my favorite classes has been my cost-benefit analysis class with Dr. Allen Klaiber. He’s really a great teacher. I learned as a statistics major at Duke how to combine elicitation and bayesian statistics to incorporate uncertainty and most accurately calculate a range of results for a cost-benefit analysis. While this may have yielded the most statistically accurate forecast, simplicity of methodology is important when trying to convince people, like a budget committee, to agree with a proposal. Dr. Klaiber's course has taught me that the interpretability of methods is as important as accuracy of results in the real world.

I’ve also really liked Professor Ian Sheldon’s international trade economics class as I think that the content is really current. There is a lot going on right now in the world that has to do with international trade, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and presidential political discussions on things like labor migration and currency manipulation. In the course, we are provided with an international trade toolkit to understand what’s going on in the world, which makes reading the news more engaging.

So, what’s next after you graduate in the spring?

Well, the summer after my junior year at Duke I interned at McKinsey & Company in New York City. As an intern I spent half of my summer working for a financial services company and the other half for a state government energy authority. I was offered a job after graduation at McKinsey, which I deferred for a year to come to Ohio State to study and play football. This summer I will move to New York and begin my job.

At McKinsey I will be consulting with a wide variety of companies. I am looking forward to traveling and working with diverse clients in different locations. This will give me the opportunity to figure out what field I really want to dive into and spend my life doing, which is what really attracted me to consulting.

Any other thoughts before we sign off?

I’ve had an awesome experience both on the football field and in the classroom at Ohio State. While the conclusion of my football career is not something that I am looking forward to, and which I am pretty sad about, I am excited for the extra 20 or 30 hours a week in my schedule that will be freed up during the spring semester, which I hope to use to take advantage of the research resources offered in the MS program.

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