UW-Madison Graduate School Features ITP Fellow Elise Marifian

When she was young, Elise Marifian was already curious about poverty and the major discrepancies between what people have or don’t have.

Elise Marifian poses for a portrait.

“I grew up really close by to a community that’s very, very impoverished,” Marifian said, adding that she would notice other kids in that community. “I knew, even though I was young, that the world they lived in was so different from mine, and the opportunities that I had were just not within their reach. And so I was always really curious about why those differences existed and whether or not something could be done.”

Over time, other experiences underscored that curiosity and homed in on what would eventually become the topic of her PhD dissertation. Marifian took a family trip to Armenia, her ancestral homeland, where she also saw a lot of poverty. In college, she took a macroeconomics course in the spring of 2008, right as the financial crisis was unfolding.

After college, she got a job working at the Federal Reserve Bank in its economic research division. She remembers how one day while chatting with an acquaintance, she found herself speaking passionately about educational inequities.

“It just dawned on me that I wanted to research that,” she said.

Marifian applied for the PhD program at the UW­–Madison Department of Economics, attracted by its reputation as a strong department and the many world-class economics faculty who research education. Marifian added that the fact that UW–Madison has a great School of Education was also an important factor.

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