Undergraduate Profiles

Roma Wang ’21

Roma Wang ’21

Yinuo (Roma) Wang hails from Beijing, China, and triple majored in economics, mathematics, and applied math and statistics. She chose Johns Hopkins because of its commitment to research and studied economics because ”Economics is a good combination of mathematical and statistical rigor and social science reasoning. I am also passionate about social inequality and I hope my research will allow people to understand our society better and have a positive impact on policy making.”

Roma’s favorite class was Professor Papageorge’s Behavioral Economics. “In this class, I learned to identify social issues and convert them into research problems. I also learned how to combine psychology with economics and upgrade the standard models to be more socially applicable.“ 

Roma worked for a year as research assistant for Professor Hwang on a cultural economics project. She cleaned up survey data, quantitatively analyzed racial language used in news sources, and created a database on caste in India. She also honed her research skills by working for the 21st Century Cities Initiative, analyzing data on small businesses and reviewing literature.

Roma’s senior thesis examined the interaction between personality traits and peer gender composition on college GPA. “My adviser was Professor Hwang and she taught me a lot in the course of writing this thesis. She helped me focus on a specific research problem and figure out the exact steps I needed to answer it. I also learned a lot about coding techniques and data cleaning and in general enhanced my econometrics skills.”

“My research interest is in labor economics and behavioral economics, with a focus on gender studies. I would like to work in academia because I like doing research, but I also want to start my own non-profit organization to help underprivileged people.”

Roma has great advice for other students: “Economics is a very broad and interdisciplinary subject. Other than taking the mandatory micro- and macro -economics courses, I advise students to seek out the field they are interested in. Having a strong background in math and statistics is useful in studying econometrics and doing research, but there are lots of courses to choose from in the department, just find the ones you like!”

Joy Wang ’20

Joy Wang ’20

“I was drawn to Johns Hopkins mainly because of its academic rigor and small class size, which to me meant a tight-knit community and more individualized attention from faculty. I applied to college hoping to major in international relations, so the strong international studies department at Hopkins added to its appeal.”

Joy double-majored in economics and international studies, and minored in French. “I didn’t become an Economics major until the spring semester of my sophomore year. I had very little exposure to the discipline prior to college and took my very first economics class as part of the requirements for International Studies. I decided to double major because I realized economics would help me understand the underlying logic behind many issues relevant to international relations.”

Joy’s favorite economics class was Labor Economics taught by Professor Husain. “This was the first class in which I was exposed to empirical economics research. We read seminal papers on important policy issues such as minimum wage, higher education, and discrimination. Professor Husain showed us the connection between public policy and economics research. In the end, my senior thesis turned out to be a labor economics piece!”

For Joy, economics provided a clear analytical framework with general applicability. “Being fluent in economics gives you the ability to strip complex issues down to their core and construct simple models that highlight the fundamentals. This skill makes you a better critical thinker and more precise writer.”

Joy spent her senior fall as an Aitchison Public Service Fellow. In addition to taking courses in public policy, she worked as a research intern in political economy at the American Enterprise Institute in D.C. where she learned how to manipulate data using STATA.

This skill proved useful when writing a senior thesis on the effects of children on women’s occupational status, advised by professors Morgan and Husain. “The topic was inspired by my interest in quantifying gender inequality in the labor market. It was one of the best learning experiences I had in college. It felt transformational in the sense in that I went into the process not knowing how to conduct empirical economics research and came out feeling much more confident in my quantitative skills. The writing process was both fun and intellectually stimulating, and really helped me grow as a researcher.”

Immediately after graduation, Joy worked as a research intern at a tobacco control policy nonprofit in D.C., a position that further allowed her to develop research skills. In the fall, she will be attending Harvard Law School. Ultimately, she hopes to work in a policy area that sits at the intersection of law and economics. 

Joy’s advice for potential majors is to know that economics, as a discipline, can feel a little theoretical at the beginning. “Try out lower-level non-foundational classes to get a preview of what economics looks like in practice. Then write a senior thesis if you can!  In the process of writing a thesis, you are challenged to piece together and build on the theories you have learned over the years. You’ll be surprised how far you’ve come!”

Nina Tophoff ’21

Nina Tophoff ’21

Nina Tophoff decided that she wanted to study at Hopkins because of the flexible curriculum, allowing her to explore her own interests. She loved how many people at Hopkins were able to pursue more than one major. “When I visited campus for the first time, I thought it was absolutely beautiful and the students I met were so friendly! Lastly, I really wanted to attend university in a city, and I have loved being in Baltimore and being close to DC.” Nina majored in international studies and economics with a minor in history.

Why economics? “In the spring of my freshman year, one of my best friends convinced me to take the Introductory Microeconomics course with her. I did not have any prior background in economics, so I was really surprised at how much I ended up enjoying the class. I officially decided to make economics my major after seeing how much it complemented international studies, and how relevant it is to policy.”

Nina took several policy-related economics classes at Hopkins, applying theoretical models to the real world. “One of my favorite classes was Professor Papageorge’s class, “Social Policy Implications of Behavioral Economics.” In that class I looked at economics from an entirely new perspective and was exposed to interesting new research in the field of behavioral economics. More generally, I was able to significantly improve my math and analytical skills by majoring in economics, especially through classes such as Econometrics. I gained a lot of insight about the far-reaching economic impact of policy decisions at both a national and international level.”

Nina was head of the Financial Committee for the Economics Club, planning initiatives to bring the Hopkins economics community closer together. She was also involved in international studies-related extracurricular activities, such as the Alexander Hamilton Society and European Horizons.

Nina has explored several different internship opportunities. In fall 2019, she interned at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, researching transatlantic economic and trade policy.  In spring 2021, she completed a virtual internship with the State Department at the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, focusing on money laundering and labor trafficking in the Caribbean region. Immediately after graduation, Nina will be working at the House of Representatives, where she hopes to gain hands-on experience in the legislative process. In the fall she will pursue a Master’s in International Relations from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. 

Ultimately, Nina plans to pursue a career in the foreign service, as an economic officer with the Department of State. Nina moved from the Netherlands to New York with her family when she was seven years old. “As an immigrant, I am eager to serve my country as a diplomat and I am really excited for the chance to travel in my career!”  

Nina suggests that economics majors participate in PILOT (Peer-Led Team Learning) when taking the Introductory Microeconomics and Macroeconomics courses. “It will give you a great opportunity to meet other people taking the class and to really understand the concepts you are learning.  I also really enjoyed the lunch series Reality Roundtable in the spring of sophomore year. It was a great experience to discuss current economic policy with faculty in an informal environment, with free food!”

Tess Snyder ’21

Tess Snyder ’21

Tess Snyder grew up in Hanover, New Hampshire, but chose to come to Baltimore because of Hopkins’ focus on research. “I also liked how flexible the curriculum is, which allows people to pursue multiple majors and fields of study. The beautiful campus definitely didn’t hurt.”

Tess double-majored in economics and applied math and statistics, and minored in mathematics. She chose to major in economics because she has always loved math, and economics provides a really useful way to apply those analytical skills. “Economics is so broad that it speaks to a lot of topics that I feel passionate about, such as climate change and health care. I realized that many of these issues could be better explained through an economic framework.”

Tess enjoyed taking advanced econometrics for the ability it gave her to understand cutting-edge economics research. “One of the things that really stuck out to me in my classes was the interconnectedness of markets, and how difficult it is to understand the actual impact of a policy or price change. I am still surprised at how much my ability to understand and explain these connections has grown.”

Outside the classroom, Tess was president of Mental Notes, an a cappella group on campus, a teaching assistant for Introduction to Probability in the Applied Math Department, and a PILOT leader for Linear Algebra. 

For two years, Tess worked as a research assistant for  Professor Nina Pavcnik in the economics department at Dartmouth, analyzing the impacts of the US-Vietnam bilateral trade agreement on micro-enterprises in Vietnam. She also interned with 21st Century Cities at Hopkins, researching topics as diverse as crime rates and digital equity in Baltimore.

Her senior thesis, written under the guidance of professors Barbera and Wright, analyzed possible adverse effects of climate change policy. “It was a great learning experience that allowed me to apply all the skill I have learned thus far. It is also supremely satisfying to see the culmination of a year’s worth of work.”

After graduation, Tess will be pursuing a PhD in economics at Stanford. “Some of my most meaningful and fulfilling experiences in undergrad were in my roles as a research assistant and teaching assistant. I know that I want to be able to pursue research in the future and I really love teaching. Going on to a doctorate seemed like the best way to be able to do that.”

Does Tess have any advice for potential economics majors? “Take programming classes! They will help you get more out of econometrics classes and expand what you can do with your knowledge of economics. Hopkins is such a great place to study multiple areas in depth, so take advantage of that. This will broaden your education more generally but also make you a better economist.”

Braxton Ransaw ’21

Braxton Ransaw ’21

Braxton was attracted by Hopkins’ reputation in the life science and medicine, and his plan was to major in chemistry and become a cardiologist. However, he ended up majoring in economics and minoring in accounting & financial management.

After my first semester at Hopkins, my interest in pursuing a degree in chemistry faded. In my second semester I took a variety of different courses to figure out where my interests lie, and microeconomics stood out to me. I was easily able grasp the concepts and had a fantastic teaching assistant who got me interested in the material outside of the classroom. This experience led to my eventual decision to major in economics.”

Braxton thinks all of the professors teaching economics are great “as they care deeply about the subject material.” But his favorite course was Econometrics, taught by Professor Husain. “Our final research paper was a blast to write as we were able to pick any topic we desired and gather data to conduct a real-life study. My specific topic focused on a way to predict the number of pay-per-view buys for professional boxing fights, a subject I am genuinely interested in.“

Braxton learned skills in economics that he could apply to other disciplines: “For example, I wrote a research paper about Chinese military strategy and utilized game theory, a concept I learned in one of my upper-level economics courses, to explain how militarized nations respond to trans-national terrorism.”

Braxton’s first internship was at a Baltimore nonprofit, Leveling the Playing Field, where he eventually secured a full-time role as operations manager, playing a big part in the company’s growth. He later served as a financial planning intern for Johns Hopkins. 

After graduation, Braxton will be working in investment & private wealth management for Alliance Bernstein. “The more standard track of going into investment banking didn’t appeal to me, as I don’t think I could compete with the kind of intensity required for Wall Street. However, in this field I can spend more time working with clients and listening to their needs.”

Does Braxton have advice for economics majors? “Don’t feel stressed about not knowing exactly what you want to do the moment you walk in the door! Take a variety of different classes that seem interesting and ,most importantly, start networking early on so you can find internships that you might like. And take at least one course with Dr. Morgan! She’s a great professor and the class is super fun.”

Chikaneme (Chika) Orioha ’21

Chikaneme (Chika) Orioha ’21

Chikaneme (Chika) Orioha double-majored in economics and natural science with a minor in psychology.  Having lived most of her life in Texas, she was interested in moving to Baltimore: “a city with a rich history and great people.”

Chika is appreciative of the flexibility that Hopkins offers with regard to fulfilling requirements. This allowed her to take a range of courses, which is how in fact she came to major in economics. “I took an economics course in my senior year in high school and found it interesting, but had no plans to go further. Then in freshman spring I enrolled in Microeconomics to fulfill a distribution requirement and enjoyed the course. I ultimately fell in love with the way the discipline analyzes different aspects of the human decision-making process. I like that economists can create mathematical models that explain, and sometimes predict, human behavior.”

One of Chika’s favorite classes was “Rich Countries, Poor Countries,” taught by Professor Dasgupta. “Professor Dasgupta did an excellent job of explaining the different theoretical models that attempt to explain cross-country income differences and challenged us to test the models against the real world.“ 

During her time at Hopkins, Chika was the chief financial officer of Marque, Hopkins first fashion magazine. She pursued her economic interests as chair of the Collaboration Committee in the Economics Club, a group that provides networking opportunities to undergraduate Economics majors, and as a founding member of Smart Woman Securities at Johns Hopkins, an investment group.

Ultimately, Chika hopes to become a physician, but she appreciates the fact that economics gave her additional skills and pushed her to reason analytically. “The ability it gave me to formulate a rigorous argument was extremely beneficial in my other classes and my everyday life.”

Chika advises other potential majors to utilize all opportunities provided by the department, including the excellent tutoring available through PILOT (Peer-Led Team Learning), to ensure that they will be successful in their courses.

Charlie Nguyen ’21

Charlie Nguyen ’21

“I was interested in studying public health in college, but Johns Hopkins was initially not on my radar. A teacher in high school encouraged me to consider it.” Charlie ended up double-majoring in public health and economics.

“Going into my freshman year, I never would have imagined studying economics. I started out with plans to double major in public health and biology. After taking introductory courses to fulfill other requirements, however, I was interested in seeing what the upper-division economics courses had to offer. It was then that I began to understand economics as more than financial markets. The empirical work that related to health and well-being, in addition to the analytical tools used in econometrics, were fascinating to me.”

Charlie’s favorite class in the department was “Economics of Poverty and Inequality” taught by Professor Moffitt. “This course really unlocked my interest in the empirical work being done in the field. Econometrics (taught by Professor Husain) and Political Economy and Development (taught by Professor Campante) were also memorable due to their heavy emphasis on statistical methods and causal inference. These three courses provided me with skills I am  currently utilizing in my coursework at the School of Public Health and other research experiences.”

Charlie supplemented his coursework with internships at the 21st Century Cities Initiative, and the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. He also worked as an epidemiology data analyst in the Department of Epidemiology at Bloomberg School of Public Health. “I would not have got these positions if it were not for my economics and econometrics skills.”

Charlie was engaged outside the classroom as well, as co-president of the Vietnamese Students Association, participant and peer mentor for the Community Impact Internships Program at the Center for Social Concern, and as a performer with the Hopkins Yong Han Lion Dance Troupe. 

After graduation, Charlie will be pursuing a master’s in health studies in epidemiology at the Bloomberg School. Ultimately, he plans a career focused on health equity.

“Don’t undervalue what you can experiences here, no matter how disparate your areas of study may seem,” he says. “Even though I’m not pursuing a traditional economics career path, I don’t think I’d have gotten the opportunities I have today if it weren’t for my economics experiences.”

Mecca McDonald ’21

Mecca McDonald ’21

Hailing from Jamaica, Mecca McDonald chose to study at Hopkins because of its world-renowned reputation: “I wasn’t sure I would get in, but I thought it worth exploring. I’m glad I did!”

Mecca double majored in economics and psychology, with a minor in visual arts (see one of her wonderful film sets in her profile photo!). Within the economics major, Mecca loved Professor Papageorge’s Behavioral Economics course. “This was one of the first economics classes I took at Hopkins that allowed me to see the real-world applications of econometrics and economic theory. I love it when professors show how the concepts we learn in class relate to formulating government policy or developing a business model.” Mecca also enjoyed Professor Poliakova’s class, Economics of Transition and Institutional Change, in which students have to use theoretical models and empirical evidence to debate the pros and cons of different types of economic institution.

Mecca seized the opportunity to study abroad in Florence, Italy, where she took courses in  economics and history from a European perspective. Plus: “I’m a creative person, so it was a memorable experience to be surrounded by so much art, culture and beauty. And the food was wonderful!”

Mecca was as active outside the classroom as in it. She fundraised $35,000 for Safe Streets Baltimore, organized two art galleries, was a participant in the film club, Studio North, and designed sets and costumes for student films. She formed Pedestal, a photography collective, and Knotty by Nature, a natural hair care club.

Immediately after graduation, Mecca will be combining her interests in economics and design by growing her start-up Mo,Na, an initiative that focuses on making biodegradable accessories for the fashion industry. Mo,Na was recently awarded $26,000 in funding from Johns Hopkins’ Fast Forward U, a hub for student startups. 

Unsure of what career path she will ultimately follow, Mecca reflects: “Attending Hopkins allowed me to develop a combination of creative and critical thinking skills. Hopkins helped me see creativity from a different perspective and I’m forever grateful for that.”

To potential majors, Mecca counsels: “Take classes that you’re interested in and get to know your professors. Explore classes outside of your major as well, there’s so much to learn here!”  

Kristofer Madu ’21

Kristofer Madu ’21

Kristofer (Kris) Madu chose to study at Hopkins because “its people are exceptional: students, professors, and members of the community alike. It is filled with opportunity. Over the past four years I have found myself growing in all areas of my life because I’m being pushed by the people around me to do so.”

Kris originally chose to major in International Studies, but ended up also minoring in Economics. “When I first came to Hopkins, I was actually intimidated by economics. However, due to my primary major’s requirements, I had to take economics courses. When I took my first class with Professor Barbera–it was like a fire was lit inside of me. The content was difficult, but I worked hard, and the harder I worked, the more I began to like it.  I began taking electives. Classes I enrolled in not because I had to but because I wanted to. One such class was Professor Dasgupta’s International Monetary Economics. I went in scared, because I was outside of my comfort zone. I took notes, attended office hours, built a relationship with my professor. I fell in love with the subject matter, and returned home to Jamaica on holiday break talking nonstop about it to my family.” Kris was born in Nashville, TN, raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and is Nigerian and Jamaican by heritage. “All my life I’ve considered the three nations home.”

Outside of the classroom, Kris founded First Friday’s Group, backed by Johns Hopkins and Red Bull, a new venture that provides thousands of youth in Baltimore with free education in the creative arts and an opportunity to perform for pay. Kris also organized Water Is The Answer, a nonprofit group which provides clean water  for a community of 20,000 in a small village in Nigeria. Finally, Kris was loathe to give up his music interests. Under the name Travis Karter he participated in a national tour stop alongside Republic Records artist Yung Gravy, and streamlined four albums around the world.

Kris completed a senior thesis entitled  “Creative Entrepreneurship & Economic Growth in African Nations.” “I analyzed a selection of African nations:South Africa, Nigeria, and Uganda, highlighting the unique forms of entrepreneurship that develop within each nation, reflecting their respective colonial histories. Often our discussions of developing nations focus on poverty and economic disadvantage, and our discussions of entrepreneurship are US/euro-centric. I wanted to show the dynamic forms of entrepreneurship unique to the regions in question, as well as the critical role Western colonization played in these nations’ underdevelopment.”

Kris is a recipient of the Richard B. Fisher Scholarship, a prestigious award granted on the basis of academic and personal merit, and this summer will work at Morgan Stanley’s Investment Banking Division in New York City.  Come fall, he will start a master’s in international economics at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

“The same kid who came to Hopkins initimidated by economics is leaving Hopkins with a promising career in the field. Economics taught me that through applying yourself, even the things you think are your weaknesses can become your strengths.” Ultimately Kris thinks of his career through two lenses: passion and impact. “Am I doing work I’m passionate about? Am I having a global, and positive impact? If the answer is yes, then I’m happy. 

Insights for potential majors? “Build relationships with your professors. Trust me. Not only will it make class more engaging, but subconsciously you will try harder and succeed more due to that relationship. In the future, it’s those professors whom you impress who will go to bat for you when you pursue other professional and academic opportunities.”

Emma KurtzFreilich ’21

Emma KurtzFreilich ’21

Emma KurtzFreilich chose to study at Johns Hopkins because of its culture and emphasis on research. “I knew that Johns Hopkins attracts hard-working students who are driven and genuinely invested in their fields of study. Combined with the many opportunities to conduct research, this made Johns Hopkins the perfect choice for me.”

Emma double-majored in economics and international studies with a minor in mathematics.

“After taking an economics class in high school, I realized that economics combined all of the parts of my favorite subjects into one. I loved being able to apply analytical methods to policy issues. Subsequently, at the college level, economics gave me the methodological tools to approach the real world through a critical lens. I learned to look for alternative explanations, examine underlying assumptions and how to conduct statistical inference.”

Emma spent a year abroad at Sciences Po in Paris. “It was an incredible experience to live abroad, experience a new educational system, and immerse myself in another language. I also had the opportunity to study subjects that are given less attention in American universities.”

Outside of the classroom, Emma was president of Hopkins Students Against Homelessness, a co-founder of the popular Economic Policy Issues Colloquium, and a PILOT (Peer-Led Team Learning) Leader for Economics, where she realized a passion for teaching as well as research.   

On the research side, as a recipient of the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Award and advised by Professors Jeanne and Dasgupta, Emma analyzed the viability of a single currency for West Africa. As research assistant to Professor M. Khan at the 21st Century Cities Initiative, she worked on a range of projects, including climate change, urbanization, and conflict in sub-Saharan Africa.

Finally, Emma completed a senior thesis entitled “The Economic Value of a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Designation,” under the guidance of Professors Morgan, Campante and Dore. Emma assembled a unique dataset on over 100 developing countries to assess the developmental impact of investing in culture. “It was a great experience that gave me the opportunity to apply the skills I learned in class to a topic I was drawn to. Ultimately, it helped me grow tremendously as a researcher.”

In the fall, Emma will be pursuing a master’s degree in economics at the University of Chicago, as a prelude to studying development economics at the doctoral level. 

She leaves us with some final thoughts on economics and the department. “My advice for every economics major is to get to know your professors as much as possible. They are an incredible sources of support and mentorship. I would also advise any economics majors to pursue research topics they are excited about. Even if a research project does not work out, the process itself will help you grow as an economic thinker and researcher.”