NAU economist earns NSF grant to study economics of COVID-19 in rural and tourism-dependent communities

Julie Mueller hangs prayer flags in Nepal

Northern Arizona University economics professor Julie Mueller is a principal investigator on a grant from the National Science Foundation aimed at increasing knowledge and solutions around the unique problems pandemics present to rural areas.

Mueller, who has an 80 percent appointment in The W. A. Franke College of Business and a 20 percent appointment in the School of Earth and Sustainability, is researching “Build and Broaden: Advancing fundamental knowledge of social, behavioral, and economic responses to pandemics in minority communities.” It is funded by the NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate and offers an interdisciplinary look at rural and tourism-dependent communities.

The necessity and timeliness of this project are due in part to COVID-19, but Mueller’s work goes beyond this specific pandemic. Her project will offer a two-day workshop “to advance fundamental knowledge of the social, behavioral and economic responses to pandemics in minority communities.” The workshop, which will include NAU-Yuma and NAU-Flagstaff researchers and members of tribal communities, will develop testable hypotheses addressing two fundamental research questions:

  • What sociocultural factors determine behavioral responses to pandemics?
  • How do changes in post-pandemic preferences impact tourism-dependent economies?

The workshop, scheduled for Aug. 18-19, 2021, will represent multiple academic specialties and varied backgrounds and perspectives. She intends to feature at least four external experts and top NAU researchers to engage with workshop participants. Mueller aims to equip this cohort with the knowledge and tools to begin the process of researching and answering the two vital questions of her NSF proposal.

“As an environmental economist, most of my work involves using economic analysis to provide insight into environmental challenges,” she said. “The empirical methods used in my environmental research can also be applied to other issues, including behavioral and regional economics. As the COVID-19 pandemic was devastating our communities in northern Arizona, it became clear that new knowledge is needed to provide better policy responses to pandemics. I wrote this proposal as a way to use our knowledge, experience and diversity at NAU and in the northern Arizona community to advance basic research in the social, behavioral and economic sciences.”

The group will be exposed to many learning and developmental workshops, including a myriad of field experts and even a program officer from the National Science Foundation, who will discuss what goes into a competitive proposal. One of the goals of this project is to get more researchers successfully applying for grants that answer these questions.

“Maybe this saves them from one or two failed proposals attempts because they’ve had this connection in preparation from the NSF in social, behavioral and economic sciences,” Mueller said.

Another substantial offshoot of her project will be to broaden research potential and build the capacity for more research within NAU and between NAU and other communities in Arizona. The workshop will provide collaboration and interdisciplinary training opportunities for early career faculty and inspire a new direction of research with community engagement. Support for travel is provided for community and NAU-Yuma participants. All participants will be provided with an additional stipend once they provide proof of a deliverable from the conference. Specific deliverables include participation as an investigator on a grant proposal in SBE or the development of a course that addresses new knowledge regarding the SBE response to pandemics in minority communities.

Faculty who are interested and ready to produce collaborative research may contact Participants will be chosen on a competitive basis with emphasis placed on early career and diverse faculty.


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Cynthia Gerber | Franke College of Business
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