Economics Transformation Project (ETP)

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The Economics Transformation Project (ETP) will use a student-informed and researcher-supported approach to build a more inclusive field of economics.

J-PAL North America’s Economics Transformation Project (ETP) will build a bridge between two communities: students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in economics, and senior economists who know what is needed to enter, progress, and succeed along the economics pipeline. ETP will leverage mentorship from J-PAL’s expansive research network and collaborate with local high schools, colleges and universities, college access nonprofits, and other partner organizations. Together with these partners, ETP will run introductory and more advanced workshops, mentorship programming, and networking opportunities to broaden participation and support the work and well-being of underrepresented voices in the field.

Motivation

At every stage of the education and career pipeline into the economics profession, students and professionals who are women, Black, Latinx, Native American, or from other minority groups are underrepresented. These gaps at the undergraduate level continue to widen at the graduate level and among economics faculty. Many of these gaps are compounded when considered alongside gender. These realities have shaped the field as a whole:  

  • Only 24 percent of Ph.D. economists in the federal government are people of color.
  • Only 21 percent of economics faculty in academia are people of color.
  • Only 30 percent of Ph.D. economists in the federal government are women.
  • Only 23 percent of economics faculty in academia are women. 

Economics relies on theories and models that seek to describe the use of limited resources through behavioral insights. Because these models require assumptions about human behavior and society, the strength of the field relies on a diverse range of perspectives. However, for those with an interest in economics—particularly for those from underrepresented backgrounds—information barriers, misperceptions, and discrimination can create hurdles to pursuing and succeeding in this field of study. 

Project Goals

Economists hold positions of power in shaping policies at all levels of government, the private sector, and the social sector. Therefore, it is crucial for the economics profession to better represent the diversity of people in the United States to ensure that wide-ranging perspectives inform theory and policy. To help address this need, J-PAL Co-Founder and Nobel laureate Esther Duflo and J-PAL North America Co-Scientific Director Amy Finkelstein are launching new programs through the Economics Transformation Project (ETP). These programs will expand efforts to transform the field of economics by broadening support for underrepresented voices at every stage of the pipeline, including the voices of Black, Latinx, Native American, first-generation, low-income, and female students.

Curricula to Spark Interest in Economics 

Student-informed and researcher-supported at its core, ETP will be designed based on insights and recommendations from high school and college students, graduate student (including PhD candidates), and economics professionals from underrepresented backgrounds. The project will offer a suite of programs and collaborations, including:

Investigating Barriers to Pursuing Economics:

  • Focus groups with local high school students: To gain a firsthand account of the challenges URM high school students are currently facing when studying economics, J-PAL North America staff will conduct focus groups with URM high school students enrolled in economics classes. Focus groups will help J-PAL better understand the interests of local high school students, the barriers they face in studying economics, and what types of resources and support they would find most helpful in pursuing opportunities in the field. These insights will inform ETP programming.
  • Focus groups at local colleges and universities: To learn what current URM undergraduate economics students wish they would have known in high school, J-PAL North America will continue conducting focus groups with women, Black, Latinx, Native American, low-income, and first generation local economics college students.
  • Interviews and surveys with academics and researchers from underrepresented backgrounds:  To learn about their journey, J-PAL North America staff will conduct interviews and surveys with academics and researchers from underrepresented backgrounds in the field of economics. Additionally, we will speak with URM economists who have left academia or the field of economics entirely to learn why they left and to what extent our program can address the challenges they faced.

Programs:

  • “Introduction to Economics” workshop at local high schools and college access nonprofits: J-PAL North America staff will introduce students to economics as a field focused on making decisions with constrained resources. Students will learn how economists use data to inform approaches to social issues and will practice asking questions and using data to understand an issue. The workshop will introduce career options for people who major in economics in college.
  • Intensive “Economics for Good” weekend courses at MIT: J-PAL North America staff and affiliated researchers will use J-PAL evaluations to teach high school students about how researchers use economics to identify effective ways to address social policy challenges. By the end of each course, students will be able to identify career paths in economics.

Collaborations:

  • Mentorship pairings: Leveraging the J-PAL Researcher Network and other connections, J-PAL North America staff will aim to pair each senior high school student who attends any of our offerings, and is interested in mentorship, with a researcher (e.g. PhD student, professor, practitioner) who attends or teaches at the college they accepted an offer to attend. The mentor will share resources and connections that may be helpful to the student’s studies and career trajectory.

To learn more about our offerings, request a workshop, enroll in a course, or volunteer for a focus group or interview, please email Jatnna Amador at [email protected]. Additional programs and collaborations will be offered as funding becomes available. Additional offerings will be structured to help diverse cohorts of students gain insight into the real-life impacts and methods of applied economic research. Through our programs, we hope students experience the excitement of problem-solving a wide range of social issues with the tools of economics.

Partnerships

J-PAL North America is seeking partners to make ETP a success. We understand that academics and organizations have worked on issues of representation and inclusion in the field of economics for decades. Let’s work together to increase our reach. 

Organizations and Academics: If your organization or team is working to build inclusive spaces within the field of economics, the ETP team would love to learn about and amplify your work. Reach out to Jatnna Amador at [email protected] to learn more about ETP and to discuss how we can partner and highlight the work that your organization is doing in this space.

High School and College Students, Teachers, Graduate Students, Professors, and College Access Program Professionals: High school and college students, teachers, graduate students, professors, and college access program professionals who want to learn more about our courses and workshops or mentorship opportunities should reach out to Jatnna Amador at [email protected].

Additional Resources 

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