New Faculty Interview

New Faculty Interview - Alison Sanchez, Assistant Professor, Economics

Alison Sanchez

Is there anything you would like to share about your professional experience?

I received my undergraduate degree in Math and Economics from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). I stayed at UCSD to continue my graduate education under economics professor, Dr. Jim Andreoni. I received my Ph.D. in Behavioral and Experimental Economics which has allowed me to focus on examining the behaviors and individual decisions associated with making economic decisions. In my research, I enjoy taking an interdisciplinary approach where I incorporate neuroscience, psychology, and machine learning. Collaborating with bio engineers at UCSD we are able to model individual decisions illustrating how the brain uses information making economic decisions in the outside world.

How did you come to decide on majoring in Math and Economics for your undergraduate education?

I remember going through all the majors available at my institution and being undecided. At first I thought I would major in biology or some other STEM field but I also thought that economics sounded interesting. I decided to go with economics because my mom always had me read Dr. Alan Gin’s column in the San Diego Union Tribune. He is a professor here at the University of San Diego (USD) and the San Diego Union Tribune often features him for economic commentary. The way I like to tell this story is that my mom asked me if I wanted to be an economist like Dr. Alan Gin and I said yes, so that’s how I picked my major. It’s interesting looking back at how influential Dr. Alan Gin was for me since I am now teaching at USD as well.

Explain your transition from being a teaching assistant at UCSD to being a professor at USD?

It’s all about being in the right place at the right time. I was lucky enough to know Dr. Alyson Ma during my last year of graduate school, since she just happened to e-mail my advisor at the time about an opportunity for students interested in teaching. I started teaching a class at USD fall of 2015 which gave me a great preview of the institution’s academic culture. With UCSD I was used to teaching large classes so the opportunity to get to know my students closely was rare. There’s a community spirit at USD that you don’t feel at a big campus. I find that really interesting from an interdisciplinary standpoint. Being a smaller institution, you get to know people outside of your department, which fosters collaboration.

In your transition, did you find you had to change your teaching style in any way?

Compared to students at UCSD, USD students are very much engaged with the outside world, they want to learn about how everything relates to the world at large. While at UCSD, students were a bit more literal, they want to be taught facts and only facts. With the transition, I try to incorporate more of the real world into their general learning so that they can experience life more fully.  For example, last year I brought in a close friend of mine, he’s the vice president of private equity firm in La Jolla. He came and he talked to my classes about what is was like to be an economist in the real world. I am also currently using a data set that a chief economist at Glassdoor (, has access to. He was able to give me a proprietary data set that is used to examine the gender wage gap. Because of this, my students will get to use a real data set that real economists are using to make decisions about Glassdoor.

Could you elaborate on your use of a visual syllabus in the classroom?

I participated in a small workshop the CEE put on about visual syllabi. I was so excited about it that I went home and tried making one right away. I’m borrowing Dr. Ma’s words here, but in my classes I have a “snapshot syllabus” and a regular syllabus. The snapshot syllabus outlines all the major headlines of my regular syllabus. I have my office hours and location, necessary materials, and a few key learning outcomes. The point of it is for students to take a picture of the “snapshot syllabus” to have on their phone with them. It’s supposed to be fun and visually stimulating to ensure that it is hitting a different part of the brain. 

Is there anything you want to incorporate into your classes that you haven’t tried yet?

I’d like to get more involved with community service learning. I’d like to find a community project that would incorporate statistics in some way. I’d love to do something with the Linda Vista Community since I know there are a lot of projects happening here. I want to involve my statistic students since it not only adds the real world dimension I spoke of earlier but also because it incorporates USD’s Changemaking initiative. I haven’t had time yet to figure it out, but I’d love to do something where students can work on a community center problem and have to gather, collecting, analyze, or organize their data in order to make change.