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Economics Growth: $450K NSF Grant to Expand Diversity in Field

Program to Double in Size, Partner With Prince George’s Community College and Create Predoctoral Component

By Rachael Grahame ’17

five employees gather around a table and take notes

To address a lack of diversity in the field of economics, the University of Maryland and Prince George's Community College are partnering to attract more economics majors who are first-generation college students, low-income, or from underrepresented minority groups, and encourage them to join UMD’s economics doctoral program.

Photo by iStock

The economics field has historically lacked racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity: Only 14% of U.S.-born economics Ph.D. recipients are first-generation college students, and of all the economics doctoral degrees that U.S. universities awarded in the 2020-21 academic year to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, just 7% went to Hispanic students, and 3% to Black students.

Supported by a new $450,000 National Science Foundation award, a University of Maryland Department of Economics diversity initiative will expand by partnering with Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) to nurture more economics majors who are first-generation, low-income, or from underrepresented minority groups, and by creating a predoctoral program that shepherds bachelor’s degree recipients into UMD’s economics doctoral program.

“The most important thing that we do as academics is set the research agenda. We choose what questions we ask, and our experiences and our perspectives affect that,” said Jessica Goldberg, an associate professor of economics and director of Promoting Achievement and Diversity in Economics (PADE). “To make sure that we are asking questions that are relevant to all of the people in this country, we need to make sure that all of the people in this country are represented in the profession.”

PADE, founded in 2016, will double in size to provide weekly academic mentoring, career and internship advising, and research training and opportunities to 20 to 24 undergraduate students and four predoctoral students. PADE already includes students who have transferred to UMD from community colleges, but many transfer students who are interested in careers in economics don’t learn about PADE until their senior year, leaving them just one year to experience its benefits before graduating with their bachelor’s degree, Goldberg said.

With this new grant, Goldberg will partner with Judy Mulusa, a PGCC professor of economics who for the last three years has been running a summer program to educate students about careers in the field, to reach students interested in advanced degrees in economics sooner.

“I think this is a great opportunity for our students at PGCC. The program will motivate students and improve their performance, enabling them to enroll and successfully pursue an economics degree at a four-year institution,” Mulusa said.

Since 2016, PADE’s 47 alums have gone on to jobs and internships at institutions like the Federal Reserve Board, Brookings Institution and the World Bank, and are earning graduate degrees from UMD, Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Mary Yilma ’21 said she wouldn’t be pursuing her Ph.D. in economics at MIT had it not been for PADE.

“Programs like PADE and people like Dr. Goldberg and Dr. Mulusa make the field of economics a more inviting space to be a part of; they are doing invaluable work,” she said. “Economics has a ways to go in terms of representation, and the lack of diversity is exacerbated when there aren’t outreach efforts to build a pipeline of prepared candidates early in the academic career.”

PADE will also pilot a national predoctoral program through which four trainees will spend two years taking prep classes, participating in mentored research experiences and interacting with PADE undergraduates, Ph.D. students and faculty in the Department of Economics.

Upon successful completion, predoctoral scholars will be offered admission into UMD’s economics doctoral program; most other predoctoral programs don’t offer a direct path.

PADE’s efforts are bolstered by an additional $100,000 in support from the Division of Research’s Maryland Catalyst Fund.

“We hope that the program we're developing at UMD will serve as a potential model for university systems around the country,” said Goldberg. “We want people to see what we're doing and say, ‘Hey, we could do this, too.’ Here's what it would look like at the university in our state.”



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