Boston Fed program aims to attract diverse students to careers in economics Boston Fed program aims to attract diverse students to careers in economics

‘Economic Immersion’ pilot invites students to see economics as an option earlier in college ‘Economic Immersion’ pilot invites students to see economics as an option earlier in college

August 17, 2023

Last spring, math major David Ahumada Pedraza was planning on a career in statistics. But after completing a new summer program piloted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the Bunker Hill Community College student is considering a new goal: becoming an economist.

“This was my first introduction to macroeconomics, and it was really interesting to learn how the concepts we’re taught allows the Fed to make decisions,” Pedraza said. “Now that I’ve been afforded this opportunity to get to know (the field) and talk to economists and research assistants, … I think it’s something I’d really like to pursue.”

The Bank’s Research department launched the Economic Research Immersion Program pilot this year with the goal of attracting more diverse students to economics, and to the Fed. Chris Foote, a Boston Fed senior economist and policy advisor who led the program, said community colleges were a natural place to recruit students.

Foote said community college students have relatively few opportunities to become interested in economics, due to the limited number of economics courses offered at two-year schools. And students who do hope to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics need to be highly motivated, because they will need to pack in numerous required courses after transferring to four-year schools.

The pilot program focused on economic research, but it also introduced students to other career opportunities in the Federal Reserve System.

“There's a tremendous amount of talent among community college students, and this program is a way to show them what we do at the Fed,” said Foote, who teaches part-time at Harvard. “It also gives us the opportunity to identify and nurture students who may potentially come back to the Bank or work in the Federal Reserve System more generally.”

Program aims to increase interest, diversity

The Economic Research Immersion Program ran eight weeks, starting in late May and ending in mid-July. The Bank worked with a consulting firm that connects students to internships and selected eight community college students taking classes in technical fields, such as math, computer science, and statistics.

Tricia Geagan, a vice president in the Boston Fed’s Research department, said the program is one of several department initiatives to help increase diversity and representation in economics.

“The immersion program is a long-term pipeline investment,” she said. “Beyond the eight-week course, we also provide mentors to students who plan to explore economics as they matriculate to a four-year college or university. Eventually, they’ll get early consideration for internships and opportunities in our research assistant program.”

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Geagan said the program was inspired by a former research assistant who, like many Black and Hispanic students in Greater Boston, started at a community college, then transferred to a four-year school. The student said she wished she had learned more about how to prepare for graduate studies in economics earlier in her college career.

“To build an inclusive economy, we need to have a workforce reflective of all the people who are a part of (the economy),” Geagan said. “Our economists and research assistants spent a lot of time with the students in the program, who were here six hours a day for eight weeks. That kind of ‘high-touch’ approach lets the students know that we care about their progress, and it helps them envision themselves working at a place like the Fed someday.”

Bank researchers led students in economic discussions, coding sessions

Economists and research assistants in the department led discussions on microeconomics and macroeconomics in the mornings. Afternoon sessions focused on using software for statistical analysis and a computer programming language called Python.

Patience Lubega, a recent Bunker Hill graduate who plans to study finance and economics at Northeastern University in the fall, said she was particularly curious about how the Fed sets interest rates.

“It’s interesting to watch how the Fed handles unemployment and inflation, understanding the amount of work and research that goes into that, and how different policies come into play,” she said.

MassBay Community College student Yemisrach Hopkin said that during the program she connected with the Bank’s community development team in the Regional & Community Outreach department.

“I’m interested in community development, so understanding how macroeconomics works … I think has a huge effect on working to create better neighborhoods,” she said. “(This program) really opened up more networking (opportunities), and I learned what I should focus on to keep pursuing this area.”

Foote said the program concluded with students presenting group research projects on topics they selected, including the effects of minimum wages on youth unemployment and the impact of student debt on homeownership.

“I’ve taught for many years since joining the Boston Fed, and the level of interest and engagement these students showed was off the charts,” he said. “I think we’ve succeeded in helping them understand how economic research works, and whether they might be interested in this type of work in the future.”

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