ATLANTA —Student Ernest Dorilas is pursuing a doctoral degree in economics, and his work is already getting the attention of major media channels like the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
He co-authored a research paper on distracted driving with colleague Nicholas Wright of Florida Gulf Coast University that the Wall Street Journal featured in a blog article last fall. In June, USA Today cited the study in an article about new driving laws that had gone into effect in Idaho, Indiana and South Dakota.
Their research suggests laws that regulate the use of handheld devices while driving are associated with 26 percent fewer daily traffic fatalities, saving nearly one life each day.
“Distracted driving is the number one cause of vehicle crashes in the United States today,” he said. “So it’s a very big issue right now, and that’s why I think they welcomed that paper.”
He never expected media recognition when he wrote the article.
“All we were trying to do was put out a good paper,” he said. “I was very happy.”
Dorilas’ desire to produce meaningful health economics research doesn’t stop at distracted driving.
“My research involves hospital closures, infant health, risky behaviors, teenage pregnancies and traffic fatalities,” he said. “I need to have a lot going on. That’s why I’ve already been involved in six projects, even though I’m only in my third year of the Ph.D. program.”
Dorilas traveled to Massachusetts this year to participate in a three-day health economics boot camp presented by the National Bureau of Economics Research (NBER).
His attendance was no small feat, as he was nominated against fierce competition.
“Most of the students came from schools like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, top schools in the country,” Dorilas said. “And I was there, too. I was the only Black person there.”
He took advantage of the opportunity to learn from important figures in the field, such as MIT economist Jon Gruber, who is known as the “Obamacare architect,” and forge connections with other young economists.
Michael Pesco, who nominated Dorilas to the bootcamp, envisions a bright future for him.
“Ernest works hard. If he keeps it up, I have no doubt he will positively impact public policy and education,” he said. “I am excited to watch his research and career trajectory going forward.”
Dorilas’s seemingly endless drive and curiosity are driven by an appreciation for how his work can affect people’s lives.
“That’s why I love economics,” he said. “It’s not just about money. We can learn a lot about the things people do and use that knowledge to effect change.”
By Sumar Deen