master's students on a boat on Lake Michigan

First Dual Master's Cohort Graduates

The world’s first cohort of students to earn dual master’s degrees in applied economics and social and economic policy received their diplomas in early December during a ceremony at Northwestern highlighting the importance of cross-cultural understanding.

The Master’s in Social and Economic Policy program, a joint effort between Northwestern University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was launched in August 2020. Events at the time—a worldwide pandemic that caused economic uncertainty and strained trans-pacific relations— underscored the need for new leaders who understand economics and policy from multiple perspectives, according to program founders David Figlio, former SESP dean, and Zhang Junsen, professor emeritus at CUHK.

The program’s international connections and cultural exchange are designed to help forge partnerships and set students up for careers as economic analysts, researchers, and policymakers.

“We made it through this unpredictable process together,” program director and associate professor Michelle Yin told the 43 graduates. “The training you received and the unique experience of learning to adapt to two cultures on two separate campuses will help you see this world with a pair of critical eyes.”

The program’s first cohort began in August 2021 in Sha Tin, Hong Kong, where students spent 10 months taking quantitative courses taught by faculty from both institutions. In June 2022, students transitioned to Northwestern’s Evanston campus for 7 months of coursework and extracurricular activities, including a Chicago Cubs game, an architectural tour along the Chicago River, and a weekend session with students in SESP’s learning and organizational change master’s program.

Several graduates said walking along Lake Michigan or waking up before dawn to see the sun rise over the water is something they will never forget.

The program, now welcoming its second cohort, unites two cultures and education systems while leveraging each institution’s strengths. CUHK is known for theoretical and empirical work in economics, while SESP helps students develop strong policy design and evaluation skills, giving the program a practical component.

“In Hong Kong, the classes are more like lectures,” says graduate Tianzong Lu. “Students receive the ideas from the professors. However, in the United States, the professors encouraged us to express ourselves. So it was very different, but I think we did a good job adjusting to the system here.”

For graduate Suyash Mohan, who was raised in India and Hong Kong, the program blended his interests in international trade and economic development. In addition to earning the program’s Excellence in Professional Development Award, he found time to work on Breer, an upcycling startup he cofounded that makes craft beer from surplus bread.

Interim SESP dean Dan P. McAdams praised the students for their energy and enthusiasm. “By simply being here and offering your perspectives, you have enriched us,” McAdams said. “You have made us a better school and a better community.”