Where policy meets math
Vincent Gonzales came into Rice as a physics/math economics double major. But before his sophomore year, the current junior had scrapped physics for computational and applied mathematics.
“I took a few optimization courses and I loved them,” he said. “Looking at that and how much I enjoyed qualitative methods, CAAM made much more sense as a major along with math econ.”
With plans to go to graduate school to study economics and energy, Gonzales is laying the foundations of further research by working on the Rice Journal of Public Policy, a publication of the Baker Institute for Public Policy’s Student Forum. The journal publishes non-partisan research about health care, energy and other issues that affect people at the local, state and federal levels.
“I’m interested in energy economics because there are so many ways it affects people,” said Gonzales. “There’s a social side to it, policy questions, infrastructure. And my studies allow me to use different tools to examine those issues. Math gives me the foundation to examine issues with data, but there’s a humanities side that comes into play as well.”
As a staff writer for the journal, he said his work not only inspires him to work on the challenges he sees in the world, but it allows him to make a difference right now. In the current journal, he has a piece about a carbon tax that Washington state defeated, Initiative 732. The strategy was designed to redistribute government revenues accrued from the carbon tax by granting tax credits to low-income families and cutting the state’s sales and occupation taxes. Gonzales’ article explored the voters’ defeat of the proposal and how it would not have had the effect the state believed it would.
David Ratnoff, president of the public policy journal, encouraged Gonzales to tackle the story, since he knew Gonzales’ overarching research interests are related to improving market design in the electricity sector for efficiency and integration of renewable energy. That’s a hefty goal, but Gonzales knows he can achieve it by combining his CAAM and ECON skills.
“He knew I was interested in energy policy and thought I should give it a shot. I started writing it on the Martel sun deck, looking up information about Washington state, and learning about carbon taxes. When I handed the story in, they really liked the draft and we worked to make it stronger. It felt so great to write.”
Gonzales believes the firm analytical skills he’s getting in his CAAM classes will serve him well into the future. He thinks it’s important to be able to understand the numbers and methods used in research, and in exploring the impact of proposals on people’s lives.
“Numerical analysis is important, data science and new techniques are important,” he said. “I love how my education helps me grow in all of those areas, to be able to make a difference in the world.”