“What drew me to the Evans School was having faculty who were really interested in how race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation factor into the public policy sphere.”

- Dani Fumia (Ph.D. ’13)

Dani Fumia is an alumna of the Ph.D. in Public Policy and Management program. She shares her thoughts on how she became interested in issues of social inequality, why she chose the Evans School, and her current research on the role income plays in educational attainment across different minority groups.

Why did you choose the Evans School for pursuing your Ph.D.? 
“What drew me to the Evans School was having faculty who were really interested in how race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation factor into the public policy sphere. In particular, the work of Mark Long and Marieka Klawitter were huge draws for me because it’s similar to the work I want to do.”

Your dissertation research focuses on social inequality and quantitative analysis. How did you become interested in this topic? 
“My mom is black and my dad is white, so we grew up talking about race and gender all the time. It became really important to me to better understand the general disadvantage in these groups and to address some of the things that my mom, sisters, and I have faced in our lives. So I combined my interest in policies that affect minority groups with my interest in mathematical analysis to look at differing outcomes between disadvantaged and advantaged groups.”

What type of course work in your undergraduate and graduate studies prepared you the most for the Ph.D. curriculum at the Evans School? 
“Surprisingly, what prepared me a lot was taking an introductory economics course during my undergraduate studies at Mount Holyoke College. Having a minor in philosophy also helped, because in policy analysis we look at logical reasoning and creating arguments that are internally consistent.”

Are there parts of the Ph.D. curriculum that challenged you in new ways?
“I think my classes on the policy process and institutional perspectives on management definitely involved things that were new to me. I’d never thought about the policy implementation, I just wanted to do the analysis, put it out there, and hope somebody used it. Those classes actually made me think about how it is used and how you can develop research that will be more useful and more visible to actual policymakers and managers.”

Even outside of your academic work, you’re committed to issues of diversity through student activities. Your most recent involvement was serving on the Evans School Diversity and Strategic Planning Committee. What do you feel your voice added to this committee?
“I think students clearly care about diversity at the Evans School. I’ve been here two years, and it’s something that’s talked about pretty consistently. I think the faculty, staff, and administration understand this, and hearing the actual perspectives of what students see in class is really valuable in keeping diversity a strong priority and moving in a direction they want to see. I definitely appreciated the opportunity to be able to give my perspective as a Ph.D. student because there are multiple layers of students at the Evans School. It’s useful to see the perspectives of all of us.”

You’re also working as a research assistant at the Evans School. What projects are you helping with? 
“I’m working with Mark Long on a project looking at the effects of course-taking on educational achievement and attainment. In other words, we’re looking at how taking a particular high school course or set of courses increases or decreases your likelihood of graduating in four years or going to college in five years. I’ve been working on this for two years, and it’s been an awesome experience.”

This summer you’ll be building on your research for this project while completing a prestigious fellowship at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., in Princeton, N.J. Can you tell me more about this?
“Sure. In my work with Mark, one of the things I noticed was how a measure of class seemed to eliminate the black-white gap in educational attainment. I thought this was interesting, and with Mark’s help, I developed the idea that extreme disparities in black and white income distributions may be driving this finding. So this summer I’ll be exploring what role differences in income and wealth across racial groups have on differences in educational attainment for blacks and whites.”

Looking beyond the books and daily grind of being a Ph.D. student, what career path do you see for yourself after the Evans School? 
“I would like to work at Mathematica or a similar organization that analyzes policies and programs in order to inform the decisions of policymakers and bureaucrats.”

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