Economics major Liana Wang ‘20 is one of four Yale students, and among 32 Americans chosen as a Rhodes Scholar. According to the Rhodes Trust, scholars are selected for their outstanding academic achievements, their character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for their potential for leadership. As the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship awards in the world, the highly competitive scholarships provide funding for two to four years of study at the University of Oxford in England.
“I feel very lucky to have been selected given that everyone who was a finalist were wonderful people doing incredibly compelling work,” said Wang. “Receiving the scholarship also feels like affirmation that the committee saw further work on inequality and social policy as incredibly important, and I hope that my next two years and career contribute to finding solutions to these incredibly complex issues.”
Assistant Professor of Economics, Michael Peters, who has served as a mentor to Wang for the last two years describes her as an “exceptional young scholar in the best sense of the word.” Continuing, Peters said, “She displays a combination of intellectual ability, analytical rigor and passion for policy-relevant research in the social sciences, which is a rare find and every meeting with her provides me with ample food for thought.”
Wang is the first in her family to attend college and plans a career as an economist focusing on labor, public finance, and social policy. “As a first-generation student from a large public high school, economics was not a discipline she naturally thought about, even though her interests already focused squarely on pivotal topics in economics, in particular poverty alleviation, inequality and public policy,” said Peters. When asked why she chose to major in economics, Wang responded that she likes how the discipline, “combines data, theory, and intuition to describe and explain the world around us.”
Along with Professor Peters, Wang expressed her appreciation to the Department of Economics faculty members who have advised and mentored her, including Professors Costas Meghir, John Eric Humphries, and Bill English.
“Professor Peters, in my sophomore year macroeconomics lecture, really showed us what some of the forefront of economics research could look like and made me interested in the potential of doing Ph.D.,” she said. “Professor Humphries has been a great research mentor from whom I’ve learned a lot about the little steps in translating ideas into strong questions and assembling the right tools to answer them, and Professor Meghir has been a constant mentor who provides me with interesting papers, pushes me to think more creatively, and really helped me understand more of the work being done in public/labor economics that relates to my interests.”
Lastly, Wang said, “I’d be remiss not to mention Professor Bill English, who puts so much work into the Fed Challenge team every year. I learned so much about labor as it applies to monetary policy through him too.”
Such support and guidance have helped Wang focus her research which examines shifting patterns of inequality in the United States and the impact of the tax and welfare system in addressing inequality. “There are so many pressing research questions to be answered that have applications to structuring a better society, and recent advances in the field – whether through better use of data, experimental design, or interdisciplinary thinking – that make me excited about economics as a discipline,” said Wang.
Wang’s thesis adviser, Professor Costas Meghir said, “Liana is a brilliant and creative young economist, deeply focused on some of the most important social issues of our time, such as the determinants of poverty and inequality and access to equal opportunity for those from a disadvantaged background.”
Extracurricular activities keep Wang just as busy outside of the classroom where she serves as the first undergraduate co-director of the Lowenstein Human Rights Project, a human rights law clinic at Yale, and has worked with asylum seekers. She volunteers as a tax preparer assisting low-income residents in New Haven in filing tax returns, is an award-winning columnist at the Yale Daily News, and represented Yale on the College Fed Challenge team.
At Oxford, Wang plans to pursue either an M.Phil. in Comparative Government or an M.Phil. in Economics. “I’m hoping to do a degree course which allows me to sharpen the skills necessary to do interesting research in an economics PhD in the future, and looking at the array of options that can give me that,” said Wang.
According to the Rhodes Trust, scholarships are awarded to students with proven academic excellence, “great personal energy, ambition for impact, and an ability to work with others and to achieve one’s goals.” Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, they are endorsed by their college or university. Committees of Selection in each of 16 U.S. districts then invite the strongest applicants to appear before them for an interview. This year, more than 2,900 students began the application process and 963 were endorsed by 298 different colleges and universities. Rhodes Scholars are committed to making a positive impact in the world, show concern for the welfare of others, and are conscious of inequities.
“This was an extraordinary year for our Yale Rhodes candidates,” said Rebekah Westphal, assistant dean in Yale College and director of Fellowships and Funding. “We had an exceptionally strong group of nominees, over half of them women, and we ended up with the highest number of Rhodes finalists from Yale since records began. This is also the first time we have had four women win the U.S. Rhodes scholarship in one year, and what a year for it to happen as we celebrate 50-150 years of women at Yale!”