Marissa Lepper, Ph.D., whose academic interests include applied microeconomics and experimental and behavioral economics, has joined the Department of Agricultural Economics in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences as an assistant professor.
Lepper is part of both the Financial Planning Program and its Human Behavior Laboratory in the department, providing her the opportunity to combine knowledge from her instruction with her research on human behavior.
“Dr. Lepper’s expertise on the behaviors that underpin and influence decisions that relate to various areas of economics will add a new dimension to our overall understanding of, among other things, financial decision-making, intertemporal choices and impatience,” said Rudy Nayga, Ph.D., head of the Department of Agricultural Economics. “And her use of real-life active learning techniques will benefit our students in that they will be able to see how behaviors can — and do — influence financial decisions and objectives of different organizations.”
Lepper, who earned her doctoral degree in economics from the University of Pittsburgh, has a master’s degree in economics from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s degree in economics and psychology from Trinity University in San Antonio.
Before coming to Texas A&M, she held positions as a research assistant, including for the Pittsburgh Experimental Economics Laboratory, along with teaching classes in behavioral economics, microeconomics and macroeconomics. At the University of Pittsburgh, she received a 2020 Department of Economics Graduate Student Teaching Award for her Introduction to Macroeconomics course.
Economics research affecting labor markets and financial decisions
Lepper is a behavioral economist who studies topics with implications for the labor market and financial decision-making. Her research interests include the economics of information and choice, particularly the causes and impacts of impatient behavior.
She is also involved in research on intertemporal choice and how myopia affects financial decisions, as well as how to modify institutional designs to provide information needed to give workers equal opportunities in the labor market.
“My research interests on intertemporal choice and demand for information intersect with a wide variety of economic fields,” Lepper said. “I’m excited to further explore how behavioral biases impact decisions in the domains of labor and financial decision-making, as well as how to help uncover mechanisms designed to achieve organizational objectives while accounting for these biases.”
Lepper said this work has proved useful for her financial planning instruction at Texas A&M.
“My research gives me a unique perspective over behavioral biases that impact financial decision making,” she said. “I incorporate this into my class on insurance and risk management to help my students see how cognitive biases can impact perceptions of risk and how the timing of costs and benefits impact financial decisions. At the Human Behavior Laboratory, I will conduct experiments that explore the economic impacts of different behaviors.”
Inclusive learning and critical thinking
As an instructor, Lepper said she strives to develop accessible and relatable course material that facilitates a deep understanding of the concepts and their applicability to daily life.
“My main teaching objectives are to aid students in mastering course material and developing critical thinking skills that will benefit them beyond coursework,” she said. “To do this, I try to foster a stimulating and inclusive learning environment that piques students’ intellectual curiosity and helps them better understand the world around them.”
She said this involves carefully designing each course to balance structure and flexibility, providing students with regular feedback, emphasizing intuition over rote memorization and updating course material in response to student input and interests.
To further encourage student involvement, Lepper employs a variety of active learning techniques, such as solving practice problems in small groups.
“This gives students an opportunity to get to know one another and ask me questions in a lower stakes environment,” she said. “I believe that when students are engaged and interested in class topics, they learn more efficiently. As a result, I frequently use real-world examples both during lectures and in assessments. While doing this, I encourage students to reflect critically on the models by teaching them the assumptions of each model and their justifications.”
Economics industry connections and academic honors
Lepper has traveled throughout the U.S. and internationally to present at numerous conferences, workshops and seminars. Additionally, she received several honors and fellowships, including the University of Pittsburgh Grad Expo Outstanding Presenter Award and the University of Pittsburgh Arts and Science Research Fellowship.
During her time at the University of Pittsburgh, she also served as the president of the Economics Graduate Student Organization, the co-chair of the Women in Economics Graduate Student Organization, and the organizer of the Graduate Student Mentorship Program.
Along with her teaching and research, Lepper is involved in various economics-related organizations, including the American Economic Association, Economic Science Association and European Economic Association. She has also served as an organizer and mentor as well as a referee for the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics.
“I’m excited that my position at Texas A&M will help me gain a more holistic view of the psychological and practical considerations that influence economics decision-making,” she said. “I will be able to incorporate that knowledge into both my teaching and research moving forward.”