John Gabrieli is the undergraduate John H. Williams Prize Winner for 2016. The John H. Williams Prize is awarded annually to the honors senior graduating with the best overall record.
What are you doing now? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Right now, I am teaching summer school in Philadelphia as part of my training for Teach for America. TFA is a national teacher corps of college graduates who commit to at least two years of teaching in under-resourced urban and rural communities across the country. Next year, I will be teaching elementary school in Hartford, Connecticut. Although I’m just starting my teaching career, I’m incredibly excited to get into the classroom and work to make a difference for kids every day. I wrote my senior thesis about how investing in our schools can increase equality of opportunity in the United States, and I’m passionate about the fight for educational justice for all students.
Why did you become an economics concentrator? Was there a specific moment of inspiration?
Economics first came onto my radar when I read Freakonomics in 7th grade. I think it made me realize that economics wasn’t just about inflation and the stock market, it was also a way of analyzing human behavior that could be applied to just about any question you might be interested in. I have always been interested in social issues like healthcare and education, and Freakonomics made me realize that the economic method could shed light on these issues and help inform effective public policy. So I came into Harvard wanting to learn the economics toolkit and then use it to analyze important social questions, but I ended up coming away with a whole new way of thinking about the world. Also, I realized that inflation and the stock market are actually pretty fascinating, when you get down to it!
Do you have any favorite Econ Department memories? What was your favorite class, and why?
Probably some of my favorite Economics Department memories at Harvard are individual conversations I’ve had with faculty members. It’s still amazing to me that so many incredible professors are willing to take the time out of their busy schedules to help clueless undergraduates like me figure things out. I just want to thank all of my professors who engaged with me outside of the classroom at Harvard, including George Borjas, Marty Weitzman, Roland Fryer, Nate Hendren, and Ben Friedman. In an office hours chat, Professor Borjas helped me figure out my plans for graduate school; in a weekly conversation with Professor Hendren, I came up with the idea for my thesis research. Also, a huge shout out to my amazing sophomore tutorial leader Samuel Stolper, who got me hooked on climate economics. A lot of those conversations ended up shaping my economics career at Harvard!
Were you involved in extracurriculars?
At Harvard, I spent my time outside of the classroom working at the Institute of Politics (IOP), volunteering with the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter (HSHS), writing for the Harvard Political Review (HPR), and serving as an editor for the Journal for Public Interest (JPI). I started off freshman year at the IOP as a liaison to visiting fellow George Papandreou, the former Prime Minister of Greece, helping him organize and run his study group on the future of the European Union. That spring I joined the Policy Program, which works with elected officials, nonprofit organizations, and advocacy groups to produce policy papers and recommendations on issues ranging from education to national security. Serving as Co-Chair of the Policy Program was my most meaningful extracurricular experience at Harvard. As Co-Chair of the Health Policy Program my junior year, I worked with students from across the state to testify before the State Senate Higher Education Committee and propose legislation to combat sexual assault on college campuses in Massachusetts. And during my senior year, I helped make Policy the most diverse student program at the IOP while also producing our first report for a US Congressman and doubling our student applications. Shout out to my whole executive team and in particular my amazing Co-Chair Kathryn Bussey ’17!
Do you have advice for current economics concentrators?
Take a junior seminar – or two! I took a junior seminar on immigration economic with George Borjas in the fall and then doubled down with a second junior seminar on market externalities with Nate Hendren in the spring, and those two seminars ended up being two of my most positive academic experiences at Harvard. Junior seminars really are a unique opportunity to discuss current research in small groups with professors who are at the forefront of their fields, and you also get the chance to practice doing some research of your own as well.
Why did you decide to write a thesis?
For me, writing a thesis felt like a very natural capstone to my Economics degree. I had a great four years of economics classes at Harvard, and after reading so many interesting papers on the economics of climate change, immigration, healthcare, and education, I wanted to try contributing some original research of my own. I had worked in my junior seminar on the economics of education funding, so, when senior year rolled around, I got in touch with my advisor at the Graduate School of Education and talked about some potential topics I could work on. Professor Kane helped me think through different research options, and not only did he turn out to be an amazing and committed advisor, but my senior thesis also ended up being the most satisfying academic experience I had at Harvard. So if you’re on the fence about doing a thesis, you should definitely go for it, as long as you have a topic that you’re passionate about. There will definitely be times during the year where you’ll wonder, “What was I thinking?” but in the end, almost everyone I talked to was glad they did it.
JOHN H. WILLIAMS PRIZE The John H. Williams Prize was established in 1958 by his former colleagues at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in recognition of his distinguished career as an economist. John Henry Williams A.M. `16, Ph.D. `19, after teaching in the Department of Economics for several years, was appointed the Nathaniel Ropes Professor of Political Economy in 1933 and was the first Dean of the School of Public Administration. At the Federal Reserve Bank of New York he served for many years as a Vice President and, in addition, acted as Economic Adviser to the bank. He also served as a member of the U.S. delegation to the Preparatory Commission of the World Monetary and Economic Conference, 1932-33, and subsequently as adviser to the Secretary of the Treasury on international monetary policy. Professor Williams retired from Harvard in 1957 and was Nathaniel Ropes Professor of Political Economy, Emeritus. He died in December, 1980. The prize is awarded annually by the Department of Economics to the honors senior graduating with the best overall record. There is no competition; students are considered automatically by the department. Further information may be obtained from the Economics Department.