Maggie Branch’s Capstone

A capstone is a project that takes the knowledge and skills our undergraduates learn in their courses and brings these together in a practical experience. LAUNCH  offers five capstone programs–Undergraduate Research Scholars, Undergraduate Teacher Scholars, Undergraduate Service Scholars, Undergraduate Leadership Scholars (a collaboration with Maroon & White Society), and Undergraduate Performance Scholats–that are open to all Texas A&M Undergraduates.

Students in the University Honors Program are expected to complete a capstone experience as part of the Honors Fellows distinction requirements but sometimes our existing programs do not fit a student’s career goals. Students who have an existing departmental capstone can modify that experience to fit our requirements and have the capstone count for both the department and the University Honors Program.

Maggie Branch ’19

Junior agricultural economics major Maggie Branch ’19 chose to do a departmental capstone to fulfill her capstone requirement. Her project, a study on factors related to the purchase and consumption of specialty eggs, gave Branch specialized knowledge about this topic as well as a better understanding of the tools needed to perform analysis and communicate findings. Below is an excerpt from her reflection on this experience:

I was surprised to discover when I began my project that I wouldn’t even look at my data for several months. The first steps in my project involved learning, and learning, and more learning. I had to first master the program that I would be using to do most of the analysis, called the Statistical Analysis System (SAS). This program is based on a computer programming language used for statistical analysis, and can read data from common spreadsheets and databases and output the results of statistical analyses in tables, graphs, and as RTF, HTML and PDF documents. The most useful thing about SAS is that it can sort through thousands upon thousands of data points in moments, allowing economists to create more accurate models. This program is often used in the Agriculture Economics Masters Programs, but is not introduced to undergraduates until their senior year. While it is extremely useful, it is very difficult to master. One wrong punctuation or letter placement in the programming leaves you with no results at all. It felt like learning a new language in the span of a month or two. Dr. Dharmasena provided me with reading material and practice data to help with the learning process, for which I was extremely grateful. After becoming familiar with SAS, I then did research on the Probit model, which is what I would eventually use to find the probabilities of how different demographic information affected a consumer’s propensity to purchase different egg varieties. After several months of reading and practice, I finally got to take my first look at the data I would use for my project.

The process of sorting the consumer purchase information first involved separating the egg products from the other products using the product descriptor code. The easily identified “Control Brand” egg types were worked with first and separating into regular eggs and specialty eggs. Specialty eggs were defined as any production process that varied from the traditional cage system egg production used by most producers. After the control brands were sorted, the name brands were exported and given a bi-variable indicator (0 or 1) to indicate if it was regular or specialty. This process took several months as I had to individually give the indicator to each one of the over 6000 different egg purchases. At the end of the sorting process I had a table for regular eggs and a table of specialty eggs. Then I added the household and demographic information and started sorting again. Thankfully SAS was actually able to help with the sorting process this time and it took considerably less time. At the end of the second sorting process I had a table for the households that purchased eggs, a table for the households that purchased only regular eggs, a table for the households that purchased only specialty eggs, and a table for the households that purchased both regular and specialty eggs.

To learn more about Branch’s project, visit her blog at: https://mbranchmaggie.wixsite.com/research.

To learn more about capstone opportunities at Texas A&M, visit http://tx.ag/capstones.

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