Kenya Heard ’16, #30under30

200x350 portrait kenya heard alumna

Kenya Heard ’16

Graduate Student and Research Fellow
Columbia University
Wheaton Major in Economics, Minor in Mathematics
Currently lives in New York, NY

"The discussions I had in classes I took at Wheaton ... inform the way that I approach my coursework and practice in my master’s program."


Back in 2015 during the summer between her junior and senior year at Wheaton College, Kenya Heard ’16 moved to Nicaragua for six months to research the impact of a coffee and cocoa cooperative on medium- and small-scale farmers, as part of the College’s Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program.

“The mindset of the HNGR program, which challenges students to examine the inequities within our society and partner with communities that have been historically underserved, continues to influence me in my career trajectory,” Heard says.

Her experience in Nicaragua was the launch Heard needed to secure her first two positions after graduating—the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative, both with the Department of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Heard’s interest in issues of racial and educational inequality came early as she watched both of her parents working and volunteering in roles to support underserved people or those who have experienced injustice. Her interest in math developed later, especially after an Introduction to Microeconomics course at Wheaton, where she discovered how math could be used to bring light to the issues that she cared about.

Currently, Heard is combining both of these interests as a graduate student at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in secondary mathematics education and as a part-time research fellow with the School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative at MIT. After she graduates, she hopes to work as a mathematics teacher in a public school in New York City.

As she looks back over her time at Wheaton, she appreciates the way her liberal arts education helped shape her worldview.

“The discussions I had in classes I took at Wheaton, like Biculturalism in the Anthropology department, History of Race and Ethnicity in the U.S., and Economics of Labor and Poverty in the U.S., inform the way that I approach my coursework and practice in my master’s program,” she says.

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