Barbara Wagner

Barbara Wagner

Majors:  Political Science & Economics
Year of Graduation: 2001
Graduate School/Program: University of Minnesota, Master's in Applied Economics
Current Job Title: Chief Economist, Montana Dept. of Labor and Industry.

Please give a brief description of your current position and where you're working. 
In this position, I provide the public, public officials, and the media with information on the Montana economy.  I also generate employment projections by industry and occupation, research different aspects of the labor market, present to various groups on the Montana economy, and provide other economic research as requested.

What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
After college, I worked for the U.S. Senate as a Legislative Correspondent/ Legislative Assistant on the issues of agriculture, trade, transportation, nutrition, and labor.  In addition to broadening my understanding of government and the creation of policy, working in the Senate dramatically improved my writing skills, which has been extremely helpful in my career. 

After three exciting years in D.C., I returned to Minnesota to obtain my Master's in Applied Economics from the University of Minnesota.  My experience working on nutrition policy in D.C. helped me obtain a research position that paid for my graduate school.  My research on the nutritional quality of foods in the school lunch program was published in a peer-reviewed journal and received national media attention for its conclusions.  I also won an award from the national Agricultural and Applied Economics Association for this research.  After graduate school, I accepted a position in my home state of Montana as a Tax Policy Analyst for the Montana Department of Revenue, where I provided policy analysis for legislators and executive branch officials on tax policy, and created fiscal estimates for legislative bills in the Montana Legislature.  After two years, I was looking for new challenges in my career and accepted my current position at the Montana Department of Labor.

What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
For all students, I would recommend really focusing on learning how to write well with conciseness and proper grammar.  For those interested in working in public policy, I suggest working on a campaign or interning during college.  Finding work on Capitol Hill is about networking and proving that you can be trusted to handle politically-sensitive information and situations.  Even with prior campaign or intern experience, many people move out to D.C. and work as waiters for a few months before finding an entry-level job on the Hill.  Thankfully, I didn't have to go through that experience because I contacted alumni and campaign coworkers to get my foot in the door, and I had a job within a week of moving out to D.C.

For those interested in becoming an economist, brush up on your math skills and take classes in statistics, linear algebra, and calculus.  I'm a firm believer that anyone can teach themselves the necessary math for economics, but only after learning the basic concepts in introductory classes.  I also recommend working between college and graduate school to gain real-world experience and discipline, and to ensure that you really wish to make economics your career before entering graduate school.  You will also gain insight into what field of economics (monetary, financial, policy, etc.) most interests you.

What skills are important in your field?
Writing, math, and public speaking skills are most important in my job.  Organizational skills are also really important to help manage the work load for myself and the junior economist.

What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
I was active in a number of clubs at Saint Ben's, which helped to develop networking skills and provided the experience of working through conflicts in a professional manner.  I also really value my experience studying abroad in South Africa, although I can't say that it has really helped me in my career in any way.  But spending four months in a foreign country is an opportunity that most won't have after college, and I recommend that students take advantage of this opportunity.

What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job?
I really like to solve problems and figure out puzzles, and economics is largely about using math and reason to solve problems.  I also truly care about good, effective, and efficient public policy that encourages social justice while promoting economic growth.  In order to create good policy, policy makers need good analysis and research to make decisions.  Both as a legislative aide and as an economist, I have worked hard to provide the best analysis and advice for policy makers, and it feels great to see your work transformed into legislation and regulation that makes government more effective and efficient.

(February 2013)