Through her time here, Conway has built a stellar record of scholarship, publishing work in dozens of prestigious journal articles, policy briefs, and book chapters. She is described by her students as “fantastic,” “great,” “gifted,” and the “best professor ever,” and by her peers as “outstanding in every area.”
“You will not find a more dedicated, effective, and caring teacher anywhere in the country,” said Michael D. Goldberg, professor of economics. “Karen holds her students to very high standards, and they recognize the value of those standards and praise her for them. She is able to ask so much of her students because they see someone who is kind and approachable, and who cares deeply about them.”’
"Karen is not an average professor. She is, without question, the best professor I had during my five years at UNH."
When faced with the decision to attend college in the late 70s, Conway initially wasn’t even sure she wanted to go. Despite her father being a college physics professor, the prospect of teaching, or continuing her education, never really inspired her. In the end she opted to pursue her undergraduate degree simply because it improved her job prospects. It was with the same pragmatism that she continued on to graduate school, mostly prompted by an over 10% unemployment rate in the spring of her senior year.
Economics wasn’t even on her radar until she took a required course in the subject as part of a business degree. She had no idea the class would change her major, much less the direction of her entire life.
“To me it was like seeing the world properly for the first time. Like going from black and white to color,” Conway said. “Economics is like the physics of the social sciences, with laws and forces that explain phenomena. It helps you understand things, and it affects almost every decision you make during the day whether you realize it or not. I really thought it was just so interesting.”
Conway is an applied microeconomist whose interests span labor, public and health economics. Her research uses sophisticated data analysis to examine how government policies affect familial household decisions such as where to live, how to spend their time, or how much to invest in their health or that of their children. In one well-known line of research, Conway found that lowering state taxes on the elderly benefits neither the state nor those elderly that most need government assistance.
During her upcoming sabbatical, Conway hopes to dive into tax policy research based on confidential federal data provided by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service through the Statistics of Income Joint Statistical Research Program. But that’s only after finishing work on six unpublished research papers, most with current and former Ph.D. students. Her work with these students is reflected in her publication list, which in recent years has spanned a variety of topics from sunshine, fertility and racial disparities to cigarette taxes, smoking and exercise.
“I think I would have definitely gotten bored if I was still working on the same thing I did with my dissertation,” she joked.
Conway admits that mentoring often pulls her away from some of the research she cares about most–but it has also reinvigorated her love for the many ways economics has evolved as a field of study over the last few decades. Her commitment to student research has also made an unquestionable impact on her young charges.
“She is known in economics graduate student lore for her high expectations and rigorous grading system, which, for an average professor, would lead to student wrath and disastrous course evaluations,” said Jenn Trudeau ‘14. “But Karen is not an average professor. She is, without question, the best professor I had during my five years at UNH. In the classroom, her enthusiasm is infectious. She is not only approachable but extraordinarily generous with her time.”
“Karen has helped me grow as a teacher, as a researcher, and as a professional. I am certain I would not have the success I've had without her guidance,” Mica Kurtz ‘15 said.
The Distinguished Professor Award is a university-wide award given each year to a singular faculty member whose overall record of “excellent teaching, caring about students, devotion to the university community, and substantial record of scholarly achievement exemplifies a distinguished longstanding career" at UNH.
Conway has previously been conferred four separate university-level awards: Class of 1938 Professor, Outstanding Associate Professor, Award for Excellence in Research, and has twice received Faculty Scholar. Paul College selected Conway for the John A. Hogan Distinguished Professor in recognition of her distinguished scholarship in 2017. She has also won the college’s Teaching Excellence Award and was twice selected by students as the Graduate Economics Professor of the Year.
“It's humbling because there are tremendous people in this building, as well as across campus,” Conway said about her historic recognition by the university. “I’ve been told the students wrote some really great things, and that means a lot. At the end of the day that matters more than any research I write. It's the impact on the students that has the longest, the most lasting effect.”