Commencement 2022: Graduating URI senior Patrice Geffrard wants to build a better world through economics

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 18, 2022 – Graduating University of Rhode Island senior Patrice Geffrard knew he wanted to be an economist even before he fully understood what an economist was.

As a child growing up in Pétion-Ville, Haiti, Geffrard had a hobby that was a bit out of the ordinary for a young child: He loved watching the news. In particular, a recurring segment with a Haitian economist grabbed his attention.

“He talked about why the Haitian economy wasn’t doing as well as other countries, and he used a lot of terms, like ‘GDP,’ that I wanted to know more about,” Geffrard said. “He just seemed like a very important person, and I wanted to be important like he was. But I really didn’t understand much about economics at the time.”

It wasn’t long into his freshman year at URI, however, that Geffrard found out his youthful instincts were on the right track.

“When I took my first exam in my first economics class, my professor wrote on the top of the page, ‘you should be an economics major,’” Geffrard said. “She didn’t know at the time that I already was.”

The more he studied, the more Geffrard’s interest deepened. He quickly learned that economic principles touch just about every part of everyday life. And he realized that a better understanding of those principles could help him to make a difference in the world.

“Economics is more than just supply and demand,” Geffrard said. “It’s about all the things that people need to live. I saw it as a way for me to be a better citizen and to shape future policy. So I added a second major in political science to help strengthen my understanding of the political side.”

Geffrard was quick to find ways of applying his work in the community. During his junior year, he worked with a team of URI faculty and students on the Inclusive Housing Project — a study of public housing in Rhode Island performed in partnership with South Kingstown Housing Authority. Geffrard helped to perform surveys of public housing residents, and to develop a literature review of best practices and policy recommendations.

In the summer of his junior year, Geffrard was accepted into the American Economic Association’s prestigious Summer Training Program. As part of the program, Geffrard studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and worked for two months at the U.S. Treasury Department. While working at Treasury, he compiled a report assessing the nation’s early response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which he presented to none other than Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Making a presentation to the Secretary of the Treasury may seem a daunting task for an undergraduate student, but Geffrard took the experience in stride.

“I’ve been a classroom assistant for three years and a tutor for two years, so I’m used to teaching and presenting,” Geffrard said. “I was nervous, but when there’s something I have to do, I just do it.”

With graduation just around the corner, Geffrard is ready for the next chapter. He has a job lined up with the Washington, D.C., office of The Analysis Group, an economic consulting and strategy firm. But at some point, Geffrard hopes to go back to school to earn his Ph.D. in economics. He’s already been accepted to two prestigious programs, and those offers are waiting when he’s ready.

Geffrard says he’s grateful for the mentorship he received from faculty and staff at URI, which he says played a key role in his journey.

“All of the faculty and staff — everybody here — they were so welcoming,” Geffrard said. “They learned my name; they got to know me, and they helped me make connections. Professor Smita Ramnarain, Professor Richard McIntyre, Professor Theresa Devine and others — as soon as I got here, they all said, ‘come to my office and we’ll talk.’ I benefitted so much from that.”

Geffrard hopes his work at URI helps to prove just how capable students from developing nations can be. Geffrard was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, but has lived mainly in Haiti for most of his life and attended high school there.

“People in the U.S. sometimes have a tendency to underestimate people who were educated in other places,” Geffrard said. “They sometimes put a label on you and assume certain things about you. But I want to get rid of those labels and show that I’m not unprepared just because I was educated in Haiti.”

After all, Geffrard knew from an early age that he was an economist. And in a few days, he will have made it happen.