Henry Zhang is an environmentalist at heart, having grown up about an hour north of Denver where there are plenty of opportunities nearby to hike, ski and camp.

“It’s easy to grow up to become an environmentalist if you spend a lot of time in and around Boulder, Colorado,” he said.

As a high schooler, Zhang thought he would become an engineer. It wasn’t until his sophomore year at Swarthmore College that he realized economics could be an avenue for studying and finding solutions for environmental issues – leading him to EPIC.

Zhang, who interned at EPIC during summer 2016, worked on a variety of environmental economics and policy projects for EPIC Director Michael Greenstone. He planned to pursue a PhD in economics and become a professor.

“Part of what I found interesting about applied economics was there are so many tools you can use for a wide variety of scenarios in the real world, as long as you have the data and an interesting research idea,” said Zhang, who graduated from Swarthmore with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with highest honors and a second major in economics.

“I, and probably many other people who study environmental economics, began with an intrinsic interest in the environment, balanced out by a concern for human welfare and a curiosity for how well markets function,” he said.

Zhang said he used to think about environmental issues – how a tax on gasoline affects human behavior, for example – but didn’t know how to answer them. His economics studies at Swarthmore and two stints at EPIC have advanced his ability to understand such issues and work towards solutions.

“I realized that economics could give me the tools to answer those sorts of questions,” he said.