WMU part of $2.3 million program to boost diversity in economics

Contact: Molly Goaley

KALAMAZOO, Mich.--Economists base much of their work on the belief that equal opportunity is vital to how society functions. Yet, the economics profession has faced a persistent lack of women and members of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

Addressing this gap is a priority for the Western Michigan University Department of Economics. Since 2016, WMU has partnered with Michigan State University to offer an innovative program designed to increase diversity in economics doctoral degrees and professions.

The American Economic Association's Summer Training Program and Scholarship Program offers talented undergraduates from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to develop their math, technical and research skills to meet the high demands of academically challenging doctoral programs.

AEA reports that some 20% of all doctorates awarded to underrepresented minority scholars in economics can be attributed to the summer program.

Summer training program

Large group of diverse students and teachers.

Students and faculty gathered for a group photo when WMU and MSU hosted their first summer seminar.

Funded by more than $2.3 million in grants from the National Science Foundation and other organizations, the AEA summer program has been offered at various universities since 1974, including Yale, Duke and the University of California, Berkeley. The two-month, intensive residential program, which is now being held at MSU's campus in East Lansing, is slated to be hosted by WMU and MSU until at least 2020. This year's program began May 30 and ends July 28.

"Preparing a diverse pool of students for the rigors of graduate school in economics is an initiative we are proud to support," says Dr. Christine Moser, a professor in the WMU Department of Economics and associate director of the summer program. Dr. Donald Meyer, department chair and professor of economics, also serves as an instructor in the program, with a number of WMU graduate students serving as teaching fellows.

Headshot, Dr. Christine Moser.

Dr. Christine Moser

Moser says the program accepts 30-40 students, typically juniors or seniors, from around the country.

"Most are thinking about graduate school, but some are interested in public policy or other economic professions," she says. "Some are first-generation college students or come from schools that don't typically send students on to Ph.D. programs. Both the academic rigor and mentoring in the program gives these students a great opportunity to move to the next level in their education or careers."

Intensive preparation

According to data from the National Science Foundation, just 34% of doctoral degrees in economics were awarded to women in 2014. Minority academic economists are even rarer, earning only 8.5% of doctoral degrees that year, according to the AEA.

Beyond academic careers, the gender and racial or ethnic gap has persisted across all economic professions. The summer program aims to boost diversity in the field by offering students substantial preparation for high-level graduate work in economics and related fields.

"The AEA summer program brings together students and teaching fellows from around the country and gives them the opportunity to network with one another," says WMU doctoral student Chikezie Okoli, a teaching fellow for the program in 2017.

"The confluence of different viewpoints, backgrounds, experiences and ideas allows students to learn from their peers about issues they may not have been aware of previously," he says. "Additionally, students become better researchers because the program gives them the techniques to conduct proper research and the awareness to ask the right questions."

The application deadline for the 2020 program is Jan. 31, 2020. Interested students can learn more by visiting the AEA Summer Program website. Direct questions about WMU's participation to Moser at christine.moser@wmich.edu or (269) 387-5542.

American Economic Association

The AEA encourages economic research, issues publications on economic subjects and encourages freedom of economic discussion. With more than 20,000 members, the association is the largest professional association representing the interests of economists from the around the world. It publishes the American Economic Review, Journal of Economic Literature, Journal of Economic Perspectives and AEA Papers and Proceedings, as well as American Economic Journals covering Applied Economics, Economic Policy, Macroeconomics and Microeconomics. More information can be found on the AEA website.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.