Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, October 3, 2011

Thiher pursues interest in economic development in Asia

Change really has to be experienced firsthand, no matter how many graphs one has to chart economic and social transitions, Nicole Thiher came to realize during the weeks she spent in Delhi, India, last summer.

Nicole Thiher spent her summer in India and interned with the Observer Research Foundation in Delhi. The foundation published the paper she wrote with another researcher. It is called "Oil Supply Routes in the Asia Pacific: China's Strategic Calculations."


Nicole Thiher will be a visiting assistant professor of economics at Coe College starting in fall 2012.

The La Follette School student went to India in the summer to intern with the Observer Research Foundation. The foundation is a private, not for profit, public policy think tank that brings together leading Indian researchers and policymakers. Thiher focused her research on the implications for China of a disruption of major oil trading routes through the sea, China's current strategy to reduce its exposure to maritime oil trade risk and the geopolitical implications of this strategy. The Observer Research Foundation has published the paper she and another researcher wrote.

"While this research has not focused on economic development, my primary area of interest, I have found it to be a very interesting and complex topic," Thiher says. "As a result, I am considering trying to incorporate energy policy into my course work over the next year."

The opportunity to pursue new fields is an advantage of the La Follette School's curriculum, says Thiher, who is working on a Master of International Public Affairs degree with an emphasis on economic development in Asia. "One of the things that I love the most about the structure of La Follette's program is that not only do they offer sound core courses that enable us to develop the skills we need for effective policy analysis and development, but they also really encourage us to enroll in courses in other departments that will help us to build on this foundation in the areas that we want to focus on."

Thiher has taken economic development and policy courses offered in other departments, including a course on economic policy in India taught by a visiting professor from the Indian Institute of Management. "Not only was I able to learn about India's economic successes, continuing challenges and the policies behind them, but through out-of-class discussions with the professor, he was able to help me find the internship in Delhi for the summer," Thiher says. "I have signed up for a similar class this fall taught by a visiting professor from China about China's economic progression and policies."

Thiher received a fellowship for her first year of study. This year she will be a project assistant with Professor Isao Kamata, helping with his research on industrialization as he determines how globalization and global integration have changed how countries industrialize, compared to countries that already have gone through that process.

Thiher came to La Follette after graduating from Coe College in Iowa. She studied economics and business and participated in several research programs. "I focused on the impact that various political, social and environmental characteristics have on economic development," she says. "While I really enjoyed my experiences there, I wanted to move toward the application of economics rather than the study of pure economics. I felt that public policy work would allow me to continue to studying and learn about the many aspects and challenges of economic development and as well as use this knowledge to try and address very real global problems."

The summer after she graduated from Coe, Thiher explored local development through an internship with the economic development department of La Crosse County, Wisconsin. "Economic development is extremely broad and touches nearly every other aspect of community life and governance. This broad exposure allowed me to see how different departments interact with each other and to learn about the process behind local government policies," Thiher says. "My biggest project was to look at how other communities in the United States had tried to address their problems with urban sprawl and how successful different options have been. This research is now being used as a base for discussions within La Crosse County."

In Delhi, Thiher experienced a society in the midst of economic and social transition. "Living and working in Delhi has shown me that while change is something you can identify in data and graphs, it is not something you can feel and understand without being there and being a part of it," she says.

After graduation, Thiher hopes to return to Asia for several years. "I want to continue to research and learn about the challenges of economic development," she says, "as well as to begin to do my small part in taking this knowledge and converting it into action."

— updated June 12, 2012