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Richters you should know: Hajar Habbal and Kgotla ‘Kotch’ Mmopi

Working with Professor of Economics and Business Robert Lemke has helped Hajar Habbal ’20 and Kgotla ‘Kotch’ Mmopi ’20 analyze one of the most complicated datasets out there. 

Mmopi and Habbal are passionate about breaking down the data in the National Longitudinal Survey on Youth 1979 (NLSY’79) so that they can answer the toughest questions facing policy-makers today.

Because of their extensive training and newfound expertise, the duo are finding answers and data for complicated social science questions that even the best may struggle in quantifying.

Mmopi, a business major and computer science and French double minor, and Habbal, a business major and double minor in Spanish and entrepreneurship and innovation, are two Richter Scholars you should know.

Q: What’s the gist of your research project?

Mmopi: “We are exploring NLSY’79, one of the most comprehensive panel datasets collected in the United States, which follows the lives of a sample of American youth born between 1957 and 1964.”  

Habbal:This survey collects data on several different subjects such as household assets, income, education, race, marital status, and personal health, just to name a few. The data has been collected annually or bi-annually since 1979.

Mmopi: “As of 2017, there have been 26 different waves of data collected. Survey questions range from the basics, such as age, gender, job, education, and marital status, to more ‘unusual’ questions concerning one’s parents, job satisfaction, drug use, and opinions. This Richter project is allowing us to begin learning the NLSY survey design so that we can eventually answer interesting research questions such as ‘What effect does having children or not having children have on one’s job satisfaction?’”

Habbal:Our end goal is to learn the survey, understand how to download and use the data, and to then analyze several patterns of behavior.”

Q: What’s the purpose of going through this dataset?

Lemke: “They spent the first two weeks of the Richter program learning this difficult dataset and creating two documents that can show others how to easily use the NLSY’79, and they spent the next two weeks analyzing the data.”

Q: What have you seen in the dataset that you found interesting?

Habbal: “I looked at the effect of marijuana usage on a variety of personal behaviors. For example, how does marijuana use, and whether you are using it at work, correlate with one’s mental health, sleep patterns, and earnings? That’s what I found to be pretty cool.”

Mmopi: “Following that, we both found this to be an interesting application of the NLSY ’79.  I don’t know if it’s just because college is an experimental time, but there’s an interest about drugs among people our age– not to use them but just to learn about their effects. I am most interested in using the real data to quantify how drug use affects job satisfaction and opportunities for promotion.”

Lemke: “In America, one thing you’ve heard your whole life is ‘Should we legalize marijuana?’ And one of the arguments against legalization is that the use of marijuana leads to the use of harder drugs. This dataset asks questions about drug use that could let one ask if using marijuana at a young age actually leads to using cocaine at a later age. The policy questions that the United States is facing are buried in this data set, and that’s why this data set is so powerful.”

Q: Were you aware of how datasets answer these questions?

Mmopi: “I like the fact that it’s an all-around learning process. We are all in this together, we are all learning, and we are all doing something that we have never done before. The fact that this type of data exists is amazing. It’s such powerful research.”

 Q: How do you like working together?

Mmopi: “I think all of us work well together. There is mutual respect. We all want to get our work done, we are all enjoying our time together.”

Habbal: “We all want to do this. It’s not one pushing the other to do something, we all just do it.” 

Q: How is this affecting your future plans?

Habbal: “This will allow me to create connections that could lead to continuing research. I really want to use this dataset in the future, possibly even for my senior thesis.”

Mmopi: “It’s pretty incredible that we can now look at data and actually make sense of it and present it to people; to be able to not just know what the data says but make decisions from it. I think that’s what I’m going to take from this experience.”

Q: Why did you want to participate in the Richter program?

Habbal: “I personally love research. I did a lot of research in my high school and I really enjoyed it. I thought that this was something I could do here that would help me figure out if I want to do a thesis my senior year.”

Mmopi: “For me it was the opportunity to work closely with a professor. You never know what could come out of your research project. It could be a mentorship or another great resource to have on this campus. The opportunity to work with a professor who is passionate about working with students and about researching is great. It would be silly to pass that up.” 

–By Tracy Koenn and Sophie Mucciaccio