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W&M Students Reese and Saunders Take Their Research to Capitol Hill

W&M undergraduates Tori Reese and McKinley Saunders were among 60 student groups from across the country selected to present their research at the annual Posters on the Hill conference, hosted by the Council on Undergraduate Research. Their research focused on the “Relationship between Fast Food Density and Obesity-Related Hospitalizations in Virginia.” William & Mary’s Schroeder Center for Health Policy and the Economics Department supported this unique opportunity for Reese (B.A., ’20, Applied Math and Economics) and Saunders (B.A., ’19, Economics) to share their findings with members of Congress and their staff.

Reese and Saunders’ research found a strong positive correlation between the number of fast food restaurants per capita and the obesity hospitalization rate in Virginia’s counties. However, using a robust, causal model, they concluded that an increase in the number of fast food restaurants per capita will not necessarily cause an increase in the obesity hospitalization rate in Virginia counties.

Reese and Saunders presented their research in two different formats. In addition to presenting their study in a poster session to Congressional legislators, their staff, and other undergraduates, Reese and Saunders met individually with U.S. Representatives Ben Cline (R-VA; 6th District) and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA; 10th District).

In their one-on-one meetings with the Congressional members, they discussed their own experiences with conducting undergraduate research and the potential policy implications of their work. Both students found these meetings to be the most rewarding experience of their DC visit. “I was amazed and honored at the time [the Representatives] took out of their busy day to speak with us not only about our research, but also about our college and research experience,” says Saunders.

Reese states that she “hopes to carry the experience [she] gained with this research into future jobs and classes.” Both students believed a variety of William & Mary classes helped them with their Posters on the Hill research. These classes included Econometrics, Statistical Data Analysis, Introduction to GIS, and Geovisualization and Cartography.

Reese and Saunders encourage other William & Mary undergraduates to present their research at Posters on the Hill. Saunders notes, “Learning how to take complex economic theory and models and put it into language in which a general audience could understand is an important skill which I learned in this process.”