The Virginia Tech Department of Economics is teaming with Peru’s Universidad de Piura for a new undergraduate summer research exchange program that focuses on how behavioral economics can inform public policymaking on such topics as environment, health, technology, and education.

This is the first such program for economics, part of the College of Science. The 23-day-long program from July 2 to 25 entails pairing 10 students from Virginia Tech with 10 students from the University of Peru for an online session in week one, a session in Blacksburg at the department’s experimental lab during week two, and the venture concludes with travel to Piura and Lima for 10 days of a policy workshop then field experiments with local communities. In Peru, Virginia Tech students will board with Peruvian families.

“Students will first learn about how field experiments are designed and implemented in the classroom,” said Sudipta Sarangi, department head of economics, who is helping lead the summer venture with fellow faculty members Professor Sheryl Ball and Assistant Professor Alec Smith. “Then they will visit several villages, some near, some far, to see how these experiments are being implemented. They will learn about the difficulties in going from theory to practice, from the classroom to the real world.”

Any student at Virginia Tech is welcome on the venture. With scholarships, total cost of the summer program will be $1,700 plus tuition per student. Final projects for the session require students from both universities to work in teams providing the type of experience seen in today’s globalized workforce.

“I signed up for this summer trip because I was looking for an opportunity to engage with my major,” said Sana Ahmad, a first-year student from Burke, Virginia, majoring in economics with a minor in Spanish. “When I found one that incorporated both my major and minor and prompted me a chance to travel abroad, I knew I could not say no. I applied last minute on a whim, thinking I would not get the chance as a freshman, but knew I had to put my foot out there and couldn't pass it up.”

Much of the research exchange program’s design came from Marcos Agurto, director of the University of Peru’s Lima School of Economics. Sarangi calls it “serendipity.” Two years ago, Agurto was visiting his wife, who was working on her Ph.D. with Virginia Tech’s Department of Statistics. Agurto asked for some office space in Sarangi’s department’s location at Pamplin Hall. The two began talking.

“Really, one coffee too many led to this program,” Sarangi said. “Somewhere along the way, both he and I realized that there existed a wonderful opportunity in experiential learning for both our student bodies.”

In addition to the experiential part of the program inside labs and in the field, the course does involve a language, cultural, and culinary exposure as participating students will be boarding with families in Peru.

“That cultural exposure will create a sense of understanding among both sets of students,” Sarangi said.

Ahmad has never been to Peru before, another reason she chose the venture. “I look forward to finally experiencing what it is to be in a South American country,” she said. “The diverse nature of Peru's geography and climate provides a wide variety of activities to do."

Grant funding for the venture comes from several sources, including Virginia Tech’s Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research and the Global Education Office, and a $25,000 grant from the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, part of the nonprofit Partners of The Americas.

For more on the summer exchange program, visit the Global Education Office website.  


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