Second cohort to graduate from the Data, Economics, and Development Policy master’s program joins a growing community of alumni

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J-PAL Africa staff Palesa Thinta and Lloyd Belton reviewing MicroMasters material in Cape Town, South Africa.
J-PAL Africa staff Palesa Thinta and Lloyd Belton review MicroMasters material in Cape Town, South Africa.
Photo: Aimee Hare | J-PAL

The second cohort in the Data, Economics, and Development Policy (DEDP) master’s program at MIT completed their degrees under unique circumstances in 2021. This year, a hybrid remote and in-person model gave students the opportunity to connect in person with classmates and professors, while also offering flexibility during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Out of the cohort of thirteen students, ten attended a blend of online and in-person courses while living on-campus at MIT and three joined their classmates entirely remotely. Like the inaugural 2020 DEDP cohort before them, the students completed challenging coursework, grew friendships with their cohort, and settled into MIT, all during a global pandemic. Eight months after arriving at MIT, the DEDP class of 2021 celebrated their graduation and received their diplomas this September. 

Having already completed the five-course DEDP MicroMasters credential online before arriving at MIT last January, students were prepared to jump into orientation, classes, and social events on Zoom, and got together for birthday celebrations and even a virtual scavenger hunt around MIT’s campus. Over the course of the semester, MIT’s regular Covid-19 testing and campus safety policies allowed students to attend some of their classes in person, giving everyone as much of a traditional campus experience as possible.

Despite the challenges that the 2021 DEDP cohort faced, the small group built a supportive community that took on econometrics problem sets, remote learning across several time zones, and exploring Boston together. 

Speaking to the new graduates, former DEDP program director Maya Duru said, “You all took a chance by not only being the second cohort in a new program but by coming to the program in a period of remarkable uncertainty… and you have excelled in MIT’s graduate economics classes. I have full trust in you to do great things for others and to find great meaning for yourselves in the work you do.” 

From the classroom to real-world applications 

After spending the spring semester studying topics such as Psychology and Economics, Industrial Organization, Microeconomic Theory and Public Policy, and Environmental Economics and Policy, each student took on their own capstone internship project during the summer. This year, DEDP students worked at the World Bank, Rio de Janeiro City Hall, the US Treasury Department, GiveDirectly, Innovations for Poverty Action, the University of Chicago's Environment and Energy Lab, and J-PAL, as well as on research projects with faculty members at MIT. 

Many students used data-driven analysis to reimagine social policy issues like mental health care, public transportation, and access to legal information. Others dove into research aiming to inform government policy responses to Covid-19 worldwide, seeking to provide social assistance and vocational training, leverage technology to improve remote learning outcomes, and understand the effects of pandemic relief policies that protect homeowners from foreclosure. 

Pressing questions in energy, environment, and climate change motivated several of the capstone projects this summer, including implementing a randomized evaluation to improve detection and avoidance of methane gas leaks and working with J-PAL’s own King Climate Action Initiative to review evidence and submit a white paper to MIT’s Climate Grand Challenge

Some of our students have received job offers from their capstone employers, and will be joining them full time upon graduation. Other students hope to pursue a PhD in the future, and many plan to apply their skills to research and evidence-based policymaking in their home countries. DEDP 2021 graduate Pavarin Bhandtivej spoke to the MIT News about his goals once he returns home to Thailand, saying, “To make even the smallest contribution to improving my country would be my dream.”

Celebrating the 2021 graduates 

The first two cohorts in the DEDP master’s program at MIT have impressed faculty directors Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, Sara Ellison, and Benjamin Olken with their achievements and strong community in the face of challenging circumstances in 2020 and 2021. As the second DEDP cohort, this year’s students were paving the way as the program adopted a new hybrid approach and took place under very different circumstances than in 2020, when the inaugural DEDP cohort transitioned to a fully remote program in April 2020. 

At the end of the summer, DEDP students and staff were able to gather in person for an outdoor dinner hosted by Sara Ellison at her home. With the stress of final papers past and the summer weather perfect for gathering outside, the event was a wonderful celebration of the students’ completion of their DEDP journey. One member of the cohort organized small notebooks, decorated with MIT’s colors and logo, for students to write each other notes to remember their time studying together at MIT. And while a few of the remote members of the cohort could not join Cambridge-based celebrations in person, some of their classmates made trips to visit them at home. 

Congratulations to the DEDP master’s class of 2021! We can’t wait to see what you do next.

Start your own journey to a master’s degree at MIT by enrolling in the next semester of the DEDP MicroMasters program this fall, beginning on October 5. For those who have completed the five-course MicroMaster’s credential (or will have by the end of the fall semester), applications to the on-campus DEDP master’s program will open in December.

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