Future world leaders get their training at the CDE

The Center for Development Economics (CDE) reception on Sept. 19 had the goal of familiarizing the CDE’s class of 2003 with the greater campus community. Representing four continents and 22 nations, the fellows hail from diverse backgrounds of experience in public sector economic analysis. The program provides a one-year intensive Masters degree that focuses on economic theory and its practical applications, which the fellows can then use in their home countries. The international aspect of the CDE provides a spectrum of opportunities for undergraduates seeking to learn more about economics, language and culture.

Tom Powers ’81, director of the program, knows most undergraduates have limited familiarity with the CDE. “Undergrads feel detached from the program, but there is a menu of ways to get involved,” he said. Students eligible to enroll in advanced economics courses can elect to take masters-level classes at the CDE – an increasingly attractive option as professors’ recent course load reduction has resulted in fewer upper level electives.

“Much of strength of the economics department resides in part with the CDE,” Powers said. “It’s an exceptional attraction at a small college, and the course offerings here are more diverse and international than they would be otherwise.”

Classes at the CDE provide undergraduates with the added advantage of studying with individuals who have worked in the field before and can relate their practical experiences. Last year, there were 33 juniors and seniors who took courses at the Center along with 15 currently enrolled fellows. Undergraduate students can also join either of the two Winter Study courses at the Center. In the future, the Center hopes to create a few summer internships for undergraduates in countries with alumni contacts.

Alumni connections play a vital role in the Center’s administrative and admissions procedures. Since Admissions places a huge emphasis on geographic diversity, the countries represented fluctuate from year to year. The CDE tries to keep regular correspondence with the central banks and financial ministries of developing nations to recruit participants. To screen candidates and establish credibility in nations that may not be otherwise be familiar with the program, the Center often seeks the help of alumni who hold positions in neighboring countries, or cover those countries from Washington, D.C.

To get applications from Cambodia, a country never before represented at the Center, the CDE first got in touch with a representative of the International Monetary Fund in (IMF) Vietnam. The representative then contacted IMF Cambodia who communicated with the country’s National Bank and Ministry of Finance to recruit applicants. “We select people who are qualified and who we think have a good chance of attracting outside funding,” Powers said.

Hong Phouma, one of the two Cambodian fellows in the current class, has five years’ working experience as an official at the Cambodian National Bank. His is representative of the program’s typical resume. When asked about his plans when he returns home, he said “I want to teach and train others with what I learn here.”

This is also the first year that Guyana has sent a representative. Debra Lavana Roberts, an economist at the Central Bank of Guyana, thought about enrolling at a masters program in London, but decided that a year at the CDE would suit her particular needs better. The curriculum at the CDE is geared towards developing economies and has a more practical and less theoretical basis than the other program she considered.

“Here we learn what happens in the bank,” she said. “This is training, not school.”

Roberts has enjoyed her time at the CDE so far. She said of Williamstown, “It’s a quiet neighborhood. It reminds me of home.”

She values the diversity of her fellow students. Gesturing around the packed CDE reception room, she said, “being here is like walking around the world.”