Marissa Gannon ’23 has always been good with numbers, and when she was just 16, that skill landed her a finance job with a community college near her Maryland home. She has continued in that position throughout her four years at Hollins, and just as her responsibilities have evolved in the College of Southern Maryland’s Facilities Department to include project planning, so have her academic interests as an undergraduate.
“When I first got here, I intended to study business with a concentration in finance, and I took all the finance classes offered by [Professor of Finance and Economics Emeritus] Casimir Dadak,” she explains. “I really enjoyed finance because I like the logical flow of things.” But during the economics classes that were required for the business major, Gannon found that she “also liked the big picture of economics and the theory behind it.” She switched to an economics major.
A hallmark of each of the classes Gannon took with Dadak was a major research project, and the senior and recent Phi Beta Kappa inductee took advantage of those opportunities to delve into some very timely topics. “During Covid, I looked at the impact on Moderna’s stock prices and how companies could profit off the pandemic. I also did deep dives into different companies’ financial records to see how they avoid paying taxes.”
Gannon went on to spend a semester last spring studying abroad in London, where she took courses on human rights and on the history of the city. “Every week we went out on tours to different areas. I discovered that London is very gentrified. I found this very interesting, especially after I learned in my human rights class about gentrification’s potentially devastating impact on the culture of a community.”
The experience became the basis for Gannon’s senior honors thesis analyzing urban regeneration in the United Kingdom. She used London for her case studies. “When low income or migrant communities are gentrified, housing becomes too expensive, and people are forced to move. Historic areas that were in place for decades are unfortunately transformed into hipster enclaves.”
Gannon adds that gentrification causes detrimental effects on the community’s mental health. “A lot of migrants rely on tight-knit neighborhoods to fill the gaps that are not covered by state benefits. When you have to disperse to find different housing, you can lose that connection of family and community as well as those social bonds and safety nets those communities built for themselves. Gentrification has an implicit impact people don’t think about when it comes to urban renewal.”
In her research, Gannon specifically explored ways to mitigate gentrification through community engagement. “I found a United Nations (UN) report that lists 16 characteristics of community involvement and how legislation can reflect those characteristics to ensure people have a role in the way their communities evolve. Then I found a 2010 report ranking different London boroughs by their gentrification levels. I picked four of those and looked into their policies to see if they matched up with the UN report. I tried to see if there was a correlation between how gentrified a particular borough was versus how much community engagement was instituted into their urban renewal policies. I did find there was a pretty significant correlation between the two: the more gentrified a community, the less involvement people who already lived there had in the process.”
Just a few weeks into her study abroad experience in London, Gannon emailed her advisor, Associate Professor of Economics Pablo Hernandez, to say, “I want to go to grad school here.” He recommended several prestigious universities for her consideration, including Queen Mary University of London, which has been placed among Great Britain’s “Ivy League” of top research schools. “When I got back home, I started looking into these universities and figuring out what I want to do. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, Queen Mary University of London is a really big school, but if he thinks I can do it, I’ll do it.’”
Not only was Gannon accepted, but she also received a significant scholarship to study public and social policy. “I have a general idea of what I want to accomplish. I don’t know yet what specific job I want, but if there’s a system already in place that’s working for people, then let’s reinforce that rather than trying to get them to conform to something else. Culture plays a huge role in economics, that’s one of the things I love about it, and I think it’s important to maintain that when you are going into places to help people. It doesn’t mean forcing your ideas upon them for what you want them to do.” Her interest in this field has been enhanced this semester through a course she’s taking called Economics of Development and Globalization, offered for the first time at Hollins by Visiting Associate Professor of Business Rathin Basu. “I absolutely love it,” she says.
As she prepares to enroll at Queen Mary University of London this fall, Gannon admits that “London was never the plan to begin with” when she first came to Hollins. However, “it was that semester abroad where I took the reins. Now, I’m very passionate about economic development and equitable development.”