Ercio Muñoz, a First-Generation College Graduate, Won a Fellowship to Study Why Some Students Succeed in School

Ercio Muñoz

By Lida Tunesi

Economics Ph.D. candidate Ercio Muñoz was awarded The Graduate Center’s Mario Capelloni Dissertation Fellowship “for students of high academic merit who show exceptional promise in their field of study.” The award of $25,000 will help Munoz continue his research on the factors that influence students’ level of schooling in Latin American and the Caribbean.
 
Munoz, who works with Professors Nuria Rodriguez-Planas (GC/Queens, Economics) and Wim Vijverbreg (Economics), is originally from Chile. He studied business engineering at Universidad de Chile, has master’s degrees in economics and finance, and has worked for the Central Bank of Chile. Munoz came to The Graduate Center in 2016 and since 2018 has also been working as a consultant for the World Bank’s Development Research Group.
 
Munoz spoke to the Graduate Center about his research and his journey to CUNY.
 
The Graduate Center: Can you tell us more about your dissertation?
 
Muñ​oz: It is about how the educational attainment of children is related to the attainment of their parents; whether children with more educated parents do better. Specifically, I look at Latin America and the Caribbean, and how rates of educational intergenerational mobility vary across regions. One hypothesis is that people who are high achievers choose to live in one place and people who are not choose to live in a different place. The second hypothesis is that the people are not different but the places they live in have different conditions and rules that affect their achievement. In addition, what happens if you take a kid from a place with low mobility to a place with high mobility? Do their chances improve or not?
 
GC: How did you first become interested in these kinds of questions?

Muñoz: I am the first one in my family to have gone to college so I’ve always been interested in what makes some children succeed, and their family backgrounds. That’s the main thing that drives me. I’ve explored other topics but I’ve always had mobility in mind, then I took several classes and met professors that made me see a way I could do a dissertation on this topic.
 
GC: It’s impressive that you work for the World Bank while simultaneously working on a Ph.D. Could you tell us more about what you do there?

Muñoz: I do several things, but the main part of the job is collaborating on a research project with a senior economist, documenting intergenerational mobility and income around the world. We look at how the income of parents is related to the income of children. I started working there after finishing my coursework at CUNY, so just as I started working on my dissertation. It’s been great because at the bank I have interactions with a lot of very talented people who can give me feedback, and I also have access to data.

GC: What drove you to pursue a Ph.D. when you already had extensive professional experience?

Muñoz: I learned kind of late in life what getting a Ph.D. was about. When I was working at the Central Bank of Chile I discovered how much I like to do research, write, learn new things, and work on questions I care about. I spent five years there doing research and realized a Ph.D. would serve me well in following that kind of career path.
 
GC: What made you choose The Graduate Center?

Muñoz: I was living in Washington, D.C., because my wife and I were students at Georgetown University, so I applied to schools on the East Coast. One of the things I liked about CUNY was the location. I think being right in Manhattan is just extraordinary. Also, CUNY is a big public university system that provides mobility for people, and in that sense I felt like I was at the University of Chile again. The professors are also very approachable.
 
GC: What advice can you offer to other graduate students?

Muñoz: Don’t get discouraged by negative outcomes or feedback. We all get some of that in economics, but don’t take it personally. You are not your work.
 

Submitted on: APR 13, 2021

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