Alfred University News

Renowned economist Raj Chetty to give Alfred University commencement address

World-renowned economist Nadarajan “Raj” Chetty, whose research focuses on designing effective government policies which address social and economic disparities, will deliver the keynote address for Alfred University’s 2024 commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 11. Commencement begins at 10 a.m. in the Galanis Family Area, McLane Center.

Chetty is the William A. Ackman Professor of Public Economics at Harvard University. His research combines empirical evidence and economic theory to help design more effective government policies. His work on topics ranging from tax policy and unemployment insurance to education and affordable housing has been widely cited in academia, media outlets, and Congressional testimony.  

He is also the Director of Opportunity Insights, a Harvard-based not-for-profit organization which uses “big data” to research ways to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds better chances of rising out of poverty.  

Big data is a combination of structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data that organizations collect, analyze, and mine for information and insights. It may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. Opportunity Insights supports policymakers, practitioners, and communities to use its research and data to develop evidence-based solutions for improved economic mobility.  

Chetty received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2003 and his bachelor’s degree in economics, also from Harvard, in 2000. He was offered tenure when he was only 28, making him one of the youngest tenured professors in Harvard's history. Before joining the faculty at Harvard, Chetty was a professor at UC-Berkeley and Stanford University.  He is one of the most cited economists in the world. In 2008, The Economist and The New York Times listed him as one of the world’s top eight young economists.  

Chetty has received numerous awards for his research, including a 2012 MacArthur Fellowship—awarded annually by the John D. and Catherina T. MacArthur Foundation, typically to between 20 and 30 individuals, working in any field, who have shown “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction”; Harvard’s George Ledlie Prize (2023), awarded for research that made the most valuable contribution to science, or in any way for the benefit of mankind; and the 2013 John Bates Clark medal, given to the economist under 40 whose work is judged to have made the most significant contribution to the field. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the John Bates Clark Medal “is widely regarded as one of the field's most prestigious awards... second only to the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.” 

Chetty was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2018. In 2020, he received the Infosys Prize for Social Sciences – Economics “for his pioneering research on identifying barriers to economic opportunity and for developing solutions to help people escape from poverty towards better life outcomes.” 

Others scheduled to speak during Alfred University’s commencement ceremony include the 2024 Marlin Miller Outstanding Senior Award recipients Brian Ngatunga and Emilia Donenberg Smith.

Ngatunga, from Mwanza, Tanzania, is set to graduate one year early with a bachelor’s degree in business analytics and a minor in marketing with a 3.95 grade-point average. An Honors Program student, Ngatunga has been inducted into the Delta Mu Delta, Alpha Kappa Phi, Pi Gamma, Mu Kappa Tau, Alpha Iota Delta, Beta Gamma Sigma, and Omicron Delta Kappa honor societies and serves as president of the latter.

Smith, from Wilmette, IL, is pursuing a dual degree in fine arts and physics. She has a cumulative grade-point average of 3.89. The recipient of a Presidential Scholarship, Smith participates in the Honors Program at Alfred University. She is the recipient of the 2023 Natasha Goldowski Renner Prize in Physics and a 2023 American Ceramic Society (ACerS) Scientific Creativity Award.

Winners of the Marlin Miller Outstanding Senior Award are chosen based on scholarship, extracurricular achievement, personal character and conduct, and nominations by faculty, students, staff, and alumni. The award was established to honor Alfred University alumnus Marlin Miller ’54, H ’89, H ’19 one of Alfred University’s most generous supporters. Miller has been a member of Alfred University’s Board of Trustees since 1972 and is a former Board chair.