Enid native wins Carnegie Fellowship

Enid native Melissa Dell recently was awarded a Carnegie Fellowship for research in economics. She is a Harvard University assistant professor of economics. (Photo provided0

ENID, Okla. — The path from Enid to an Ivy League education and the highest levels of academic research may seem narrow and seldom trod.

Enid native and Harvard assistant professor of economics Melissa Dell, who recently was awarded a Carnegie Fellowship for research in economics, wants students in her hometown to know there are opportunities to follow in her footsteps.

Dell attended Pleasant Vale Elementary School and Oklahoma Bible Academy, where she graduated in 2001.

She went on to study at Harvard University, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics in 2005, then on to a master's of philosophy degree from Oxford University.

After studying at Oxford, Dell went on to earn her doctorate of philosophy from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012. Since 2012 Dell has served as a professor at Harvard. 

Her recent Carnegie Fellowship award is the latest in a long line of academic honors, including being named by the International Monetary Fund as the youngest of 25 economists under the age of 45 shaping thought about the global economy in 2014; an Alfred Sloan Fellowship in 2016; and a $364,000 National Science Foundation grant, also in 2016, to study the relationship between military and civic action.

Dell was nominated for the Carnegie Fellowship by the National Bureau of Economic Research. According to the NBER website it is a "private, non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to conducting economic research and to disseminating research findings among academics, public policy makers, and business professionals."

The Carnegie Fellowship includes a $200,000 grant, which Dell said she will use to study the relationship between the development of primary schools and national unity in Indonesia.

Dell said she is interested in studying the ways primary schools helped bridge cultural and ethnic divides among Indonesia's diverse population after the country was founded in 1945, and she hopes the research could help with reconstruction in Afghanistan.

"I think it's very applicable to the things the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan, particularly in trying to expand education to girls," Dell said. "It can create more of a shared culture and identity and reduce conflict, but there haven't been many studies to see if that's actually true."

Dell's previous research has included studying an algorithm that was used by the United States to determine bombing targets in Vietnam, and ways the selection may have been counterproductive in American military strategy.

She said that research, published in January in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, could be applicable to studying the effects of Russian and Syrian bombing campaigns in the Syrian civil war.

In addition to her ongoing research and teaching duties at Harvard, Dell also currently is serving as a visiting assistant professor at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research at Stanford University.

While aspiring to Dell's level of academic achievement may seem a lofty goal, she said her education in Enid prepared her for success at Harvard.

She said her education at Pleasant Vale and OBA taught her an essential skill for academic success: self-discipline.

"I think it taught me a lot of the importance of being self-disciplined and self-motivated, which are probably the most important things," Dell said. "When you go to college you have to be motivated to push through with it on your own."

She said parents play a pivotal role in preparing students to succeed in college, and beyond.

"Teaching them good study habits is really important, because when you come to college you don't bring your mom with you," Dell said. 

As a professor, Dell urged other educators to stress the importance of logical thinking in their students' lessons.

"So much of education and the labor market has gone to technical skills, and that's really about thinking in a logical way," Dell said. "Develop those skills where you start out really basic, and make them more complex over time using logic."

Dell said there are some cultural barriers that keep students from Enid, and other small communities in middle America, from pursuing degrees at Harvard and other Ivy League universities. She said communities like Enid are underrepresented at Harvard, "and I think that's really true to all Ivy League schools."

"I think there's a lack of information about the opportunities," Dell said. "In reality, Harvard would love to have a more geographically diverse student body, and they have really good financial aid as well."

"They really do want to expand the diversity of their student body," Dell said. "They don't want everyone to come from the same five high schools in New York, but people don't apply in large numbers from areas where people haven't historically gone to those schools."

She said that desire to increase diversity can make financial aid more accessible for students from communities like Enid — if they do their research and apply.

"There's opportunities out there," Dell said, "and if you don't apply you won't know if those opportunities are available to you."

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I am a retired Naval Officer and small business owner, outside of my work at the News & Eagle. My wife Tammy and I enjoy serving together at church and attending Gaslight and ESO. We have two daughters, three dogs and little free time.

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