Prakash Mishra, a graduate of the Management and Technology program and a Public Policy Research Scholar, is coming back to Wharton this fall to pursue his PhD in Applied Economics. Coming to Penn as a freshman, Prakash knew he wanted to use the skills and analytical tools he would learn as an engineering and business student to try to understand and ameliorate social problems. When Prakash learned about the Wharton Public Policy Initiative and began to delve into policy, he realized he’d found a way to structure his academic career around the sorts of problems he was interested in, without sacrificing his broader education in engineering and business.
A seminal moment for Prakash was his internship with the city of Boston, which he obtained through the Public Policy Initiative. While Prakash was enjoying his coursework in business and engineering, he felt the focus was on “building foundations in management, mathematics, etc., but I wanted to go further and apply those skills in a way to promote social justice.” As an intern for the Boston city government’s data analytics team, Prakash was able to help the city with a wide range of problems, from helping police track human trafficking hotspots to helping the Chief of Streets predict where potholes would occur. Prakash was invigorated by the work. That same summer, he applied to join the Public Policy Research Scholars program, to make public policy a clear part of his academic life.
Back at Penn, Prakash wanted to gain more experience in policy research using his skills as a coder and economics student. He joined the PPI Student Group blog, through which he wrote about how cities could use big data to solve important local issues. Through PPI, Prakash also began working with Professor Ben Lockwood as a research assistant examining the language of tax forms for issues of comprehensibility and accessibility. Prakash stayed on as an assistant to Professor Lockwood for the rest of his time at Penn, with his responsibilities growing as he gained useful skills: “It was super cool. I was taking an optimization class in Engineering and a Finance class in Wharton and I was able to apply many of the things I was learning to the research we were doing,” Prakash explains. “In addition, I got to see how engineers and economists can work together in interesting ways.” Prakash had found his academic sweet spot.
Prakash continued to look for research opportunities on and off campus, and while spending a summer at the London School of Economics doing research, Prakash confirmed that he wanted to get a PhD in Economics. As he recalls, “I realized I liked research enough to make it a career, but in addition, I wanted economics to be my field. I thought a lot about what ‘type’ of economist I wanted to be. My research was generally a mix of the structural and the applied, so I felt like my field needed to mirror that.” Eager to continue developing his research skills, Prakash saw an opportunity at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia in their Consumer Finance Institute that would mix spatial analysis and urban economics. The opportunity was a natural continuation of Prakash’s academic pursuits. “Having an urban policy certificate from PPRS and experience in City government as a data analyst, urban economics was this field that seemed to raise the types of policy questions I wanted to answer,” Prakash says. “I applied, and used some of the faculty connections PPI had helped me forge to help bolster my application.”
Being in PPRS also allowed Prakash to broaden his understanding of research through fieldwork. In a course called Metropolitan Food Systems, which Prakash took as one of his PPRS courses, he visited urban gardens, worked with the SHARE food program, and learned how to design and develop surveys and other qualitative research skills. Prakash appreciated that the course “encouraged me to have a mix of global and hyper-local perspectives. Global in the sense that I needed to think about global food trends, environmental impacts, and how cities can be instruments in that system, and hyper-local in that the questions I asked were relevant right here in West Philadelphia.”
Prakash’s PPRS capstone project was a culmination of the various themes and ideas he’d explored throughout his time at college. He picked a topic, the gentrification of neighborhoods after an ‘affinity designation’ (Chinatowns, Gayborhoods, Arts districts, etc.), that had gotten him interested in public policy in the first place, after watching his own home town in North Carolina gentrify. It also gave him a chance to continue looking at local issues, one of the reasons he wanted to stay at Wharton for his PhD, and to spread his wings in developing an economic model. Now, Prakash will get to continue the work he’s been doing as an undergraduate in a more focused and rigorous manner as a PhD student, in the community that has done so much already to help him define and deepen his passion for policy research.