Minimum wage, globalization, and meatballs: a student’s research experience

Time is money.

Would you believe this phrase produced a student-faculty collaboration, a research grant, and a trip to another continent?

You better believe it. But you’re probably wondering how, or why.

It all happened because Katie Ragon ’13 told her mentor, sociology Prof. Craig Lair, she wanted to go to graduate school. As a result, Lair presented Ragon with the following idea: take research he had already conducted and expand upon it in a global context. Honored and excited about the opportunity, she knew it wouldn’t be a simple assignment. But she was confident it would help to develop her research skills, and could produce valuable results that she would be able to incorporate into graduate school applications – so she accepted his offer.

Thanks to support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Ragon spent ten weeks last summer researching the relationship between work, time, and money. Traditionally, minimum wage studies have focused on money (i.e. how much do minimum wage workers earn) while ignoring temporal aspects (i.e. how long someone has to work in order to receive a particular income): this is a significant oversight in Ragon’s opinion. So she focused her work on calculations related to the number of hours individuals and families earning minimum wage would have to work in order to achieve both poverty and median-level incomes – in both the United States and in numerous European Union countries. Findings showed significant differences between how long minimum wage workers would have to work in order to achieve certain income thresholds, as well as a variance in stability from one country to the next.

In March, Lair invited Ragon to co-present their combined research and findings at the International Labor Process conference in Sweden from March 27-30. “There were delegates from 26 countries, and we were two of only six Americans there,” said Ragon. While that may be intimidating to most people, it was an inspiration and incredible learning experience to Ragon. So was the moment she learned she was both the only undergraduate student attending as well as presenting at the conference.

“This was a really great experience for me,” Ragon said. “It was helpful to observe Professor Lair and the other presenters speak, ask and respond to questions, and gain a greater understanding of how international conferences work,” said Ragon. “While I feel our research fit in well with the other topics being presented, our work was something new that no one else had really looked at.”

While her time in Sweden was brief, Ragon made sure to experience the country’s culture. She attended a reception in Stockholm’s City Hall (pictured right), which hosts the Nobel Prize Ball each year, and viewed the beautiful Golden Hall. “There are over 18 million mosaic tiles and ten kilograms of gold in that room,” she said. “It was very cool to see that in person.” She also met Margareta Björk, the president of Stockholm’s City Council. And last but not least, Ragon stayed in a hostel that offered a Swedish Meatball Experience – guests were taught how to authentically prepare traditional Swedish meatballs. Even though she was immersed in a foreign culture thousands of miles from home, globalization made itself perfectly present, and caused her entire experience to come full circle, as she walked to the local 7-eleven for a snack, just as she would have back in Gettysburg.

“I traveled to a foreign country and lived their culture, presented at a professional conference, watched and learned from experts, and gained awareness of issues I’d like to research in the future,” Ragon said. “This was an amazing experience.”

Ragon is a sociology major minoring in Spanish and women, gender, & sexuality studies. She’ll be a senior this fall and after graduating plans to earn a Ph.D. and eventually become a college professor. Learn more about her experiences abroad via her blog.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college, which enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students, is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

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