Tom Powers, the new director of the Center for Developmental Economics (CDE), envisions a closer relationship between the CDE and the rest of the college community. Powers became director of the center in October.
Powers expressed confidence in the current operations of the center. “The CDE itself is doing great. Incoming President Schapiro once taught classes at the CDE and Provost Catherine Hill was the Chair of the CDE prior to becoming provost, so I feel as if the current administration really understands us. What I’d really like to see is increased interaction between the undergraduate college and the CDE.”
Powers cited a number of potential catalysts for interaction between the two groups of students. Currently undergraduates may take classes at the CDE. The number of students wanting to do so in recent years has increased, a trend that demonstrates that more undergraduates are interested in doing work with a more applied perspective and has increased interaction between the two communities.
Other potential forums for interaction include talks and cultural events at the CDE, which both number about six a year and are open to the community as a whole or events at other locations on campus which deal with international issues which CDE students sometimes attend.
Powers said, “These on-off events can have a positive effect on interaction but because people have so little opportunities to get to know each other, they are not as meaningful as other paradigms.”
There is a greater potential for meaningful relationships to develop, Powers noted, in the instances when undergraduates and CDE students work together, such as when writing tutors or tutors in specific subjects from the college work with CDE students, or when outside interests, such as athletics or music, bring students together.
Powers expressed an interest in hearing suggestions from other members of the college community on how to facilitate interactions and noted that college students can arrange to eat lunch at the CDE. Powers also envisions students from the college using the CDE as a resource when the travel or career interests of undergraduates coincide with the countries of CDE students.
In addition, Powers would like to set up internships for undergraduates at the agencies for which CDE alumni work.
Such internships would afford the opportunity both to work and learn in a different country and to be involved in interesting developmental economics work.
Power graduated from Williams in 1981 with a degree in Economics and then spent two years in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone working in agricultural education.
After his return to the States, Powers worked with Lehman Brothers in the filed of municipal finance. In 1987, he completed an MBA at Harvard which enabled him to work in the field of emerging market finance which he pursued with two banks.
Between 1997 and 1999, Powers worked in consulting for non-profits.
“I was looking for a life style change and I still wanted to pursue my interest in Development Economics when I saw an ad in The Economist advertising the position of CDE Director. I was familiar with the center and my wife and I were ready to leave Manhattan for a more rural area, so I had no hesitation,” Powers said.
Power’s job at the CDE is non-academic. Henry Burton, an economics professor, is the chair of the center while Powers manages admission, the day to day running of the center and financial aid for the students.
There are currently 21 students from 13 countries enrolled in the CDE, which offers a one-year program, which leads to a Masters degree. In order to apply for admission, the students must be nominated by a member of the government of their country, often an alumnus of the CDE.
This fall Powers traveled to interview the applicants. “It’s a great part of the job,” he noted. “I got to meet many alumni of the program, all of whom were incredibly friendly. It’s difficult to decide who to admit because, the students have such different backgrounds. We don’t require the GRE’s because for some students, the fees would consume a month’s salary.”
The tuition at the center is slightly more than the undergraduate tuition.
Some of the surveyed students receive partial funding from their governments and the CDE attempts to make up the difference with grants from the U.S. government and various foundations.
Powers noted, “Part of the difficulty in procuring funds stems from the fact that many students who come to the U.S. for graduate degrees end up staying here so their degree doesn’t do much good for their home country. The CDE recently surveyed the alumni it was able to contact and of these, 90 percent had returned to their home country, a statistic we push when we try to obtain funding.”