Chang He ’16 examines economics in China as a John C. Young Scholar

When formulating a list of the most fascinating research topics, Special Economic Zones and free market economics might not appear at the top of some people’s lists. But for Chang He ’16, who is studying economic growth in China as a John C. Young Scholar, nothing could be more exciting.

“It has been my great honor to be chosen as a JCY Scholar, since I have long looked forward to independent research on economics,” He says.
The John C. Young Program was created in 1990 to give seniors the opportunity to dedicate an academic year to an independent research project in their field of interest. He’s research examines convergence patterns across Chinese provinces from 1980 to 2010.

“By ‘convergence,’ I am referring to the per capita income across provinces, and convergence over time would imply that poor regions are growing faster than rich ones, meaning also that different provinces would become equalized in per capita income,” He explains.

The thirty years He focuses on are significant because they followed the economic reform instituted by Chinese revolutionary leader Deng Xiaoping in 1978. That reform led to dramatic economic growth for China.

“The economic reform took place mainly by establishing Special Economic Zones (SEZs), which are geographically contained regions in Chinese provinces that have special tax policies or other more liberal laws,” He says. “These SEZs are the engines that gradually transformed China from a communist regime into embracing a free-market economy. Therefore, another highlight of my research is to study how these SEZs came into play with the convergence pattern across Chinese provinces.”

A mathematics and economics double major, He’s interest in economic growth led her to pursue an independent study last year with her JCY program mentor, Assistant Professor of Economics Ravi Radhakrishnan. He credits that independent study with preparing her for her JCY scholarship.

“This independent study gave me a good review on the literature for this research,” she says. “Taking other economics courses, such as econometrics, are also helpful for this research. Having adequate mathematics preparation is essential for me to explore literature on economic growth.”

However, He’s interest in convergence patterns in China is also partly personal.

“The subject is intrinsically appealing to me,” she says. “As a native of China, I am interested in understanding this ‘growth miracle’ that has transformed the lives of my friends and family for the past few decades.”

He has enjoyed the self-directed nature of her JCY scholarship.

“My favorite part of the project is my independence—with guidance from my mentor, Dr. Radhakrishnan—while conducting my research,” she says.

He’s JCY project is one of many research successes she has garnered at Centre. At the 2016 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Seattle earlier this year, He’s poster project won the Outstanding Presentation award. In 2014, she contributed to a mathematical research project concerning differential equations with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Ellen Swanson. She presented her research on fluid mechanics at the 2013 Bluegrass Undergraduate Mathematics Symposium.

Upon graduating from Centre, He will attend the London School of Economics to pursue a Master’s of science in economics, after which she hopes to earn a Ph.D. in economics. She knows that her JCY project prepared her for graduate school and hopes that future Centre students will apply for a JCY scholarship with that in mind.

“It is a great opportunity for students to gain a deeper understanding on research topics that they have long been interested in,” He says. “The scholarship should be even more attractive to those thinking of going to graduate schools, as gaining the experience of doing independent research will definitely help one’s research skills.”

He’s JCY research has not been easy—but it has been worth it.

“It has been a very challenging project for me,” she says, “but I have learned a lot and achieved a lot.”

by Elizabeth Trollinger
May 17, 2016