As a first-year student at Gettysburg College, KJ Sanger ’17 expected to go to class, participate in campus activities, and build her professional skill set, but merely months after enrolling, she found herself teaching graduate coursework in Europe.
And it all began with her First-Year Seminar (FYS), An Experimental Avatar: Discovering Economics, with Prof. Rimvydas Baltaduonis.
“Experimental economics uses game theory as an approach to understand human behavior,” said Sanger, an economics and political science double major. “It specifically focuses on decision making, and observes why people make certain decisions in a laboratory setting.”
During her seminar, Sanger piloted a project in the Gettysburg Lab for Experimental Economics (GLEE) to investigate voting behavior during political elections. Her FYS tasked her with developing this project and programming software to test her experiments, an undertaking requiring extensive economics research.
Sanger’s results suggested that a candidate’s probability to win an election can noticeably influence voters—findings that could potentially increase voter turnout during real-life political elections and allow political strategists to rethink how prediction can be utilized throughout the lifetime of national elections in the U.S.
“The potential applications of this information remain largely under explored. I’m very happy to be working with Gettysburg students to advance this frontier,” Baltaduonis said. “The goal of the course was to study economic behavior in small scale and in controlled environments, and use that information to get deeper insights about real world behavior. KJ’s project did just that, and was very impressive and sophisticated.”
Her notable work inspired Baltaduonis to ask Sanger to accompany him on his most recent visit to Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) in Kaunas, Lithuania, and present her study to grad students overseas.
“I asked KJ to go and show her project and expand on what she had already learned,” Baltaduonis said. “She helped me teach a graduate course for masters students, who were commenting that KJ was very well-versed in this material for a first-year undergraduate.”
Baltaduonis has served as a guest lecturer at VMU and other Lithuanian universities since 2009 and has been instrumental to the growth of their experimental economics programs.
For Sanger, experience abroad coupled with her FYS have not only allowed her to discover a deeply rooted passion for economics, but also opened doors for her to investigate the discipline in a variety of academic and geographical settings.
“I fell in love with the major after taking my First-Year Seminar,” Sanger said. “Being able to further explore this field while teaching and traveling abroad for the first time was an incredible experience. I now know that this is what I want to do as a college student.”
The recent work of Baltaduonis and Sanger is one of many examples of how mentorships on campus between Gettysburg faculty and students are leading to exciting academic pursuits and professional opportunities.
“We are lucky to have close partnerships with our students, and we have great opportunities to work with students on a one-on-one basis,” Baltaduonis said. “First-Year Seminars particularly help us learn the interests and abilities of our students early in their undergraduate careers.”
Sanger echoed Baltaduonis’ appreciation for these initial connections.
“My seminar has allowed me to do things I wouldn’t have been able to do until my junior or senior year,” said Sanger, who now acts as an economics peer learning associate and a research assistant for Baltaduonis, a role typically reserved solely for upperclassmen. “It has helped me firmly grasp this heavy material and I’ve discovered how much I enjoy it.”
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition that includes Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate and other distinguished scholars among its alumni. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Nick Skitko, communications and marketing intern.
Contact: Mike Baker, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6521.