By: Tiffany King
August 23, 2022

Coastal Georgia alum Ben Harrell truly has Mariner Pride. He graduated in 2015, earning a bachelor’s in psychology with a double minor in economics and math, and described the Class of 2015 as “a great graduating class.” Ben initially chose to major in psychology because, as a non-traditional student, the courses worked with his schedule, but he stayed because the psych professors are second to none. He even still has some of the materials from those courses.

Q&A with Ben Harrell

What have you been up to since graduating? What are you currently doing?

Since graduating, I went on to earn my Ph.D. in economics at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.  I now work at Vanderbilt University as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Economics and the LGBTQ+ Policy Lab.  I’m a health economist that studies health disparities, health insurance markets, and discrimination in access to healthcare, especially among LGBTQ+ populations.

In what ways did your experience at Coastal Georgia prepare you for your current career?

I’ve worked at a large public institution (Georgia State) and a large private research institution (Vanderbilt) in addition to Coastal Georgia, and I can tell you right now that no single institution has been more personally invested in my individual success than Coastal.  The math and economics departments (especially Dr. Laura Lynch and Dr. Don Mathews) worked hard to get the econ and math minors up and running so that I could have those under my belt to look good for Ph.D. applications and wrote letters of recommendation for me that helped get me accepted in four different doctoral programs.  I would not be where I am today without Coastal Georgia.

Looking back, how did you change over the course of your time at the College?

My time at Coastal marked the beginning of what I consider to be the most transformational times of my life.  Candidly, when I started my time at the College I was a bit of a mess.  I remember in one of the first courses I ever took (U.S. History with Pat Morris), I had a terribly dramatic coming out experience with my family that made me miss an important class, and I will never forget the kindness in her email response.  I still have that email, in fact.  “Who we are is in the only person we can be,” she said.  I still get chills when I think of that email.  It was a real turning point for me.  I went on to join the GSA and wrote an editorial for the Crow’s Nest (the campus newspaper at the time) for National Coming Out Day in later years.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time in college?

My favorite memories are from the time I spent in the ATTIC with my fellow tutors—cracking jokes between tutoring sessions and helping people who were struggling with course content understand it better.  Those were the times that I really knew I wanted to be involved in higher education. 

What is the College’s best kept secret?

People keep forgetting that Willie’s Weenie Wagon is just across the street, and I find that terribly tragic.  Memories of the pork chop sandwich keep me up at night.

Any career advice for current students and other alumni?

Networks are EVERYTHING.  Everything I have achieved in my professional career—and in my personal life—I have achieved by (a) working hard and (b) by making genuine and mutually beneficial connections with people who have opened doors for me that hard work couldn’t open alone.  I really cannot emphasize enough how important it is to learn NOW how to network.  Go talk to Brian Weese and the folks in the Career Services Office (now COMPASS Center), go to the networking events the College hosts.  For goodness’ sake, go to office hours with your professors!  Whenever someone mentions your name, the response should never be “who?”

Any advice about college life for current students?

People will forget what you said and did.  They’ll never forget how you made them feel.  They’ll never forget what it was like to be around you.  There’s an old saying that everyone brings joy to a room, some when they enter and some when they leave.  Be the former.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I’ve been guest speaking on a few podcasts recently, and am excited to continue to do that, since my first time ever doing a podcast was this one spooky Halloween podcast Drew Miller and I did for the Crow’s Nest.  My postdoc at Vanderbilt will come to an end in summer 2023, and so by then, I will hopefully be a professor of economics at a college or university.  Until then, I have a ton of really cool research that I’m working on with my colleagues coming down the pipe, so hopefully you’ll be seeing my name pop up on Google Scholar a bit more.

Please feel free to share any awards/accomplishments

You can find my published and forthcoming academic work in the Journal of Economic Education, American Economic Association Papers and Proceedings, the American Journal of Health Economics, and in the working paper series of the National Bureau of Economic Research.  I was the 2019 recipient of the Georgia State University Excellence in Teaching Award for Economics, a 2019 Claremont Graduate University Causal Inference Fellow, and MOST importantly, a proud alumnus of the College of Coastal Georgia.  #HailTheSail