Alumnus Selected for National ‘Genius Grant’

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Roland Fryer ’98 tackles controversial subjects with a straight-ahead rationalism you’d expect from a nationally acclaimed economist. Much of his vast body of research, which has been featured on 60 Minutes and in Time magazine, The New York Times, and numerous other media outlets, focuses on the black-white economic and social divide. In September the MacArthur Foundation named Dr. Fryer one of 22 MacArthur Fellows for 2011. Often called “genius grants,” the awards recognize creativity, originality, and potential to make contributions to society and include $500,000 in support over five years. Fellowships come without stipulations or reporting requirements. Fryer is the Robert M. Beren Professor of Economics at Harvard University. He is also founder and director of Harvard’s Education Innovation Laboratory and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Through theoretical investigations and quantitative analysis, he has explored the cognitive underpinnings of racial discrimination, labor market inequalities, and the educational trajectory of minority children. He recently led a study of more than 20,000 students from 200 schools in three cities to see if financial incentives improve academic performance. Early results indicate that monetary payments alone have no statistically significant impact on test scores. Fryer also has examined the effect of attending historically black colleges and universities, the impact of “acting white,” and the causes and consequences of distinctively black names. “I love discovery. I love the idea that you can be stumped for hours and then it somehow becomes clear,” he says. “I don’t know what the answers to racial inequality are, but I’m going to spend the rest of my life using all of my energy, talent, and data I can muster to try and figure it out.”

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