Economics of COVID-19 in rural and tourism-dependent communities: Dr. Julie Mueller, Economics Professor for The W. A. Franke College of Business will lead the research charge with her recently Awarded Grant from the National Science Foundation

Dr. Julie Mueller performs many roles: Professor in The W. A. Franke College of Business, Researcher, Triathlete, and Mentor, to name a few. Dr. Mueller has recently added another role to her oeuvre: Awardee of a National Science Foundation grant as Principal Investigator. Entering her thirteenth year at NAU has brought many new challenges and opportunities for projects. With such a diverse background and varied interests, her similarly impressive NSF project goal comes as no surprise. Dr. Mueller’s project entitled, “Build and Broaden: Advancing fundamental knowledge of social, behavioral, and economic responses to pandemics in minority communities” was funded by the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate at the National Science Foundation.

Mueller has an 80% appointment in the W.A. Franke College of Business and a 20% appointment in the School of Earth and Sustainability. Mueller is a Professor in The W. A. Franke College of Business also teaches a core class for the Climate Science & Solutions Master’s program in the School of Earth and Sustainability. The course is held within Franke College, though the topic ‘Applied Environmental Economics’ is the perfect bridge for Dr. Mueller, who received her Ph.D. in Agricultural and Resource Economics. Mueller’s research is in non-market valuation, and much of her work focuses on the Southwestern US.

“I have projects targeted at improving understanding of the economic benefits of forest health, springs, and ecosystem services,” Mueller said.

Recognized as the Marley Professor of Business Excellence because of her impactful and inter-disciplinary research, teaching, and service contributions to NAU, Mueller now seeks an interdisciplinary impact with her NSF grant.

The necessity and timeliness of this project are due in part to the focus on COVID, but also Mueller’s specific approach and the unique population in which the work will be disseminated. Mueller’s project will offer a two-day workshop at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff (NAU), “to advance fundamental knowledge of the social, behavioral and economic responses to pandemics in minority communities.” Northern Arizona University has multiple locations, and they all serve a diverse population of students. Workshop participants will include NAU-Yuma and NAU-Flagstaff researchers, and members of tribal communities.

In 2011, Mueller worked on her first grant with the NSF. The collaboration for that grant started at the proposal phase with NAU Hydrogeologist, Dr. Abe Springer. “[We] were looking at the interaction between forest restoration and watershed services incorporating human values,” Mueller said. When looking at economic impacts on the environment, experts from different areas of environmental research are necessary. Similarly, when looking at the social, behavioral, and economic impacts of pandemics within specific communities, all aspects of the community must be considered. It is essential to collaborate with experts who have different specialties as they are likely to see the situation differently and think of solutions not evident to other experts.

Mueller has embraced this approach to research and problem-solving and wants to represent multiple academic specialties and varied backgrounds and perspectives in her workshops. 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 Mueller’s NSF proposal, “What sociocultural factors determine behavioral responses to pandemics?” And, “How do changes in post-pandemic preferences impact tourism-dependent economies?”

Mueller noted that she aims to empower the participants to, “develop detailed, testable hypotheses that incorporate their own talents and advance fundamental research.” 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.

“I’ve submitted a lot of proposals, and there’s a lot of rejection, but rejection is useful when there’s feedback…it does take resilience to get success,” Mueller said.

The competition for grants, especially prestigious grants such as the NSF, has never been higher, and Mueller’s NSF will be the grant that keeps giving. Having a presentation from a program officer from NSF on the aspects of a competitive proposal will be invaluable to her cohort. “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. The program officer can inform the early-career faculty on presenting and tailoring their specialties and research for future NSF grants. 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.

When Mueller isn’t working on her numerous research projects, she is training, spending time with her family, and of course, teaching. Along course tri-athlete, Mueller’s days start early, but she is back in time to bid good morning to her 19-month-old and have breakfast with him and her husband. It’s then time to work on research, have some meetings, and make some calls before teaching her classes and holding office hours. Having been a Professor in Belize before coming to NAU, Mueller’s academic and professional past is colored with travel and endless cultural and inspiring experiences.

One of her fondest memories was her time spent in India.

“I was a Fulbright core scholar in India, and this was by far the most rewarding cultural experience of my career. I taught Ph.D. students there in economics,” Mueller said.

She often thinks back to this time for inspiration as she remembers her students, their curiosity and passion, and the many obstacles they had to overcome to be there with her. Similarly, on her last sabbatical, Mueller went to Rwanda, Nepal, and Zambia doing work for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) evaluating programs. “These are the kinds of things that you just don’t expect. That you would get a Ph.D. in economics and that you’ll get to go all over the world, but I have. I have figured out how to do that, which has been really cool.” Making homemade applesauce and taking walks with her toddler are other common occurrences for our NSF grant winner.

Mueller would like to call on faculty interested and ready to produce collaborative research regarding her questions. Participants will be chosen on a competitive basis with emphasis placed on early career and diverse faculty. If you would like to get involved, please reach out to Dr. Mueller at Julie.Mueller@nau.edu.

Written by: Cynthia Gerber
The W. A. Franke College of Business

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The W.A. Franke College of Business

The W.A. Franke College of Business

Northern Arizona University’s Franke College of Business.