New faculty profile: Rhiannon Jerch studies the impact of public works on urban revitalization

Rhiannon Jerch joined the UW–Madison faculty in August 2023 as an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

For more of an in-depth look at one of Jerch’s research projects, view this recent AAE article showing how driving restrictions can affect urban housing markets.

What is your hometown? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Lake Bluff, Illinois.

What is your educational/professional background, including your previous position?
I received my bachelor’s in economics from the University of Illinois, my master’s in applied economics also from the University of Illinois (go Illini!), and my PhD in applied economics from Cornell University. Prior to joining UW–Madison I was an assistant professor of economics at Temple University in Philadelphia.

How did you get into your field of research?
I started my undergraduate degree thinking I would go into international relations and diplomacy. Once I started that track, I realized that I really missed math classes and the universality of math and theory. I decided to switch majors and pursue economics because it was a nice marriage between social science, current affairs and mathematics. I love my field and am grateful to my high school economics teacher for exposing me to econ early on.

What are the main goals of your current research and outreach programs? 
I endeavor to bring infrastructure to the forefront of conversations about urban revitalization. I hope my work can highlight unexpected ways in which public works – like transport infrastructure, water treatment, and the electrical grid – affect urban growth and welfare. I am currently fascinated by water infrastructure and water quality and how these essential services affect city growth historically and today. 

What was your first visit to campus like? 
I first came to Madison in March of 2011 during a campus visit to the MS in applied economics program. I recall there was about two feet of snow on the ground and it was quite windy. The campus seemed unperturbed by the weather. The AAE faculty member who took me on a campus tour didn’t even zip up his jacket.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with? 
An excitement and curiosity for the ways in which economics can be applied to all kinds of topics. Economics is not just about money and banking. It’s about incentives. I love this field because researchers are constantly introducing economic methods to pursue new frontiers, from estimating water quality benefits to understanding marriage decisions, to predicting how cities form.

Do you share your expertise and experiences with the public through social media? If so, which channels do you use? 
I’m on Twitter/X at @RJerch.

The pandemic forced us all to reconsider many things we took for granted. Is there something you’ve learned that has helped you through these challenging times, personally or professionally? 
I became a mom during the pandemic, so I learned the value of taking each day at a time and not worrying about things you cannot control. 

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties? 
One thing that Oxford, England, Vancouver, Canada and Bosphorus, Turkey all have in common is that their names basically translate into “place to cross your cows over a river.” Water features have always been central to the formation and growth of cities.

What are your hobbies and other interests? 
Running, cooking, history and exploring with my two kids.