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A new program offered by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics (BFI) at the University of Chicago aims to draw students from across the country who may not have previously considered studying economics. Through the program, called Expanding Diversity in Economics: A UChicago Summer Institute, the BFI, with support from Chicago Booth and the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, hopes to diversify the pool of economics students.

“Economics is such a powerful tool for understanding the world, but its potential contribution is limited if only a subset of undergraduates choose it as a major,” said Michael Greenstone, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Service Professor in Economics, the college, and the Harris School, as well as director of the BFI. “Through its dynamic curriculum and supportive community, we believe the Summer Institute will make economics appealing to a broader set of students who down the line will pose and answer questions that expand the field and our understanding about the world.”

Currently, just 15 percent of economics majors are Black, Latinx, or Native American, according to a recent study. About three-quarters of those economics majors are men.

“The lack of diversity among the undergraduate population with respect to majoring in economics has ripple effects,” said Erik Hurst, the Frank P. and Marianne R. Diassi Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and a John E. Jeuck Faculty Fellow at Chicago Booth and deputy director of the BFI.

Each summer up to 40 undergraduate students will be invited to the BFI, earning a $1,200 stipend, with students who are Pell Grant recipients receiving a stipend of $2,400. They will study with economists from Chicago Booth, the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics, and the Harris School of Public Policy. This summer, due to the pandemic, the program will be held virtually.

The program will be managed by Quentin Johnson, who recently joined the BFI as director of diversity and inclusion programs. Johnson previously served as senior economics outreach specialist for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, where he successfully expanded diversity within the intern program, the research assistant program, and the economist ranks.

“I am excited and honored to join this groundbreaking program at the University of Chicago,” Johnson said. “The commitment of the Becker Friedman Institute to expand diversity in the economics field can serve as a national model to really drive the inclusive skill building and community building necessary to move economics into the 21st-century and make it more representative of our society.”

Students will examine a range of topics including employment and wages, economic development, gender wage gaps, and political bias via the lens of economic thinking, and learn how to build an analytical tool kit. They’ll also learn how to leverage large-scale administrative data and economic observations to tackle big questions facing society, such as climate change and inequality.

“Economics is such a powerful tool for understanding the world, but its potential contribution is limited if only a subset of undergraduates choose it as a major. Through its dynamic curriculum and supportive community, we believe the Summer Institute will make economics appealing to a broader set of students who down the line will pose and answer questions that expand the field and our understanding about the world.”

— Michael Greenstone

Through this program, students will learn how different countries can close achievement gaps in income and education, they’ll work on the most efficient approach to health-insurance coverage, and they’ll consider why some countries do a better job with balancing the economic well-being of their citizens than others.

The Institute will also include an interactive luncheon series led by various UChicago economists who have researched everything from poverty to global trade.

In addition, students at the summer program will have the opportunity to apply for a research assistant program, where they will work with faculty throughout the academic year, earning $5,000 annually.

Students will be linked with faculty in a mentoring program with the goal of providing opportunities for more research experience throughout the year, even when these students return to their own colleges and universities.

Successful applicants should have a minimum 3.0 GPA, be enrolled in an undergraduate degree-granting program, and have completed high-school or college-level coursework in calculus, statistics, economics, or a similar quantitative field. Everyone, regardless of gender and ethnicity, is eligible for the program as long as they’re aged 18 or older.

“We look forward to exposing these promising students to the world-class faculty and research at the University of Chicago and all that economics has to offer,” said Madhav Rajan, dean and the George Pratt Shultz Professor of Accounting at Booth. “In recent years, we’ve seen other STEM fields achieve success in increasing their diversity: given the stakes, we look forward to addressing this challenge in economics at the earliest stages of matriculation.”

Visit Expanding Diversity in Economics for more information and to apply. The deadline is March 14.

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