Duke to host summer minority economics program

Some 30 undergraduates nationwide will descend upon the University next summer to take part in the selective American Economic Association's Summer Minority Program.

Duke will be the ninth university to host the AEA program, which is currently housed at the University of Colorado at Denver. Duke will host the program for three years, with an option to renew for an additional two years.

During the program's eight-week period, students devote their time to honors courses that bridge the gap from undergraduate course work to first-year doctoral work. The AEA offers approximately 25 scholarships for students who wish to participate in the program.

Thomas Nechyba, professor and incoming chair of economics, said the program's efforts to encourage minority students to pursue careers in economics were critical for the diversity of the field.

"Most economics departments have no African-American or Hispanic economists on their faculty," he said. "As a result, whenever one department tries to improve diversity, it can do so only by making another department less diverse by recruiting one of their faculty."

According to AEA, only 5 percent of the economics doctoral degrees awarded each year to American citizens go to African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. As a result, there are few minority economists in academics, government and the private sector.

Charles Clotfelter, professor of public policy studies, economics and law at the Sanford Institute of Public Policy and a researcher on the economics of education, suggested two reasons for this continuing problem.

"One possibility for the shortage is that economics Ph.D.s don't offer quite as high salaries as other fields like law and business," he said. "The other possibility is that the kind of training required for higher-level economics may not be on the curricular plate of these minority groups.

Nechyba, who previously taught in the AEA summer program when it was hosted by Stanford University, said the AEA program would help change the continuing problem of economics homogenity by presenting minority undergraduates across the country with an option they may otherwise not consider, and provides them with the tools to succeed should they choose that option.

Already, eight senior faculty members have volunteered to teach during the eight-week program. Even more have offered to recruit and mentor students. Charles Becker, director of the program at the University of Colorado at Denver, said Duke's experience with the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute-a program in political science similar to the AEA summer program-will allow the economics department to draw on a wealth of experience from the political science department for its running of the program.

Paula McClain, professor of political science and director of the Bunche Institute, said she was glad the economics department was successful in securing the program and looked forward to working in concert with them.

"The addition of the AEA program means that Duke University now hosts the two premier social science pipeline programs for underrepresented groups in the nation," she said.

When asked if it would be harder to attract students to a smaller place like Durham following the success of the program in Denver, Becker said that Duke's greater prestige, world-class faculty and better facilities seemed to be far more important.

"I have no doubt that downtown Denver is much more vibrant than Durham, especially at night. And I haven't figured out what will replace the outdoor activities planned here," Becker said. "However, in reality, our students spend 70 to 80 hours a week working, and almost none of them will average more than one real social event per week."

Becker will continue to serve as director when the program relocates to Duke.


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