It was in an environmental economics class at Lawrence University that Doan Thu Thuy Nguyen ’21 realized her interest in economics and her passion for the environment could co-exist.
The experience in that class, taught by David Gerard, the John R. Kimberly Distinguished Professor in the American Economic System and an associate professor of economics, led Nguyen to two summers at Lawrence spent on environment-related research tied to her home country of Vietnam. And that work has now led the economics and mathematics double major to her next academic adventure—acceptance into Carnegie Mellon University in the doctorate program in Engineering and Public Policy (EPP) as a graduate research assistant. She will join a group of Carnegie Mellon researchers this fall.
Reflecting on her undergraduate experience, Nguyen said her time at Lawrence could not have had a more positive or fruitful impact on her academic interests, pointing to her collaborations with Gerard and other economics faculty as key to getting into the Carnegie Mellon research program.
The Carnegie Mellon team, led by Nicholas Z. Muller, the Lester and Judith Lave Professor of Economics, Engineering and Public Policy, secured an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant to fund the research, which will explore environmental impacts of certain manufacturing processes. Among other things, the funding provides for financial assistantships for graduate students. For Nguyen, this means that she will be given full tuition and a stipend for the initial academic year.
Although a little nervous, Nguyen said she is ready to begin. She’s excited to work with Muller and his team in part because she’s read academic papers of his and admires his work. She’ll also be working with people from different STEM fields and expects to be challenged.
“I expect it to be very intense but I also like that environment,” Nguyen said.
However, making the decision to apply to the Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. program in EPP was not an easy one, Nguyen said. She had offers from numerous economic Ph.D. programs and was hesitant at first to consider Carnegie Mellon because it was the only program that she applied to that was not solely focused in economics. She explained that what drew her in at the end was that the EPP program is exceptionally strong in areas regarding energy and environment, which are her main interests surrounding economics.
“It was clear that it was such a great place to be and I’ll be working with a lot of people who are really pioneering areas in research,” Nguyen said.
When asked how she found her passion for environmental economics and energy, she explained that it was initially through taking the environmental economics class with Gerard. Nguyen has since worked closely with Gerard and associate professor of economics Jonathan Lhost. They and other faculty have helped facilitate and augment her academic interests, she said.
She spent two summers at Lawrence conducting research—one summer focusing on the cost of decarbonizing Vietnam and the other on the air quality and public health in Vietnam. Both professors recommended that she apply to present her research at professional academic conferences and helped her to prepare and practice for her presentation.
“This is just one example of how professors at Lawrence go above and beyond for their students,” Nguyen said. “My professors really didn’t have to do any of those things, but they did because they care.”
Gerard also encouraged her to consider the EPP program at Carnegie Mellon and wrote her a letter of recommendation. He saw Carnegie Mellon as a great fit for her in part because of his own experiences there; he was on the faculty for eight years prior to coming to Lawrence in 2009, serving as executive director of the Center for the Study & Improvement of Regulation. He continues to serve as an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy.
Although he knows it was a tough decision for Nguyen, he doesn’t doubt she’ll exceed expectations.
“She was certainly an extraordinary student,” Gerard said.