Le ’21 Investigates Growth Volatility in Developing Countries
June 10, 2020
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. –– Vietnam native Thao “Jenny” Le ’21 is spending this summer researching
the economic and political factors that are hindering developing countries –– including
Vietnam –– from growing to high-income status.
A rising Illinois Wesleyan University senior economics major, Le is this year’s Mark Israel ’91 Summer Research Fellow. With guidance via distance learning from Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics
Phillip Oberg, Le is investigating the determinants of growth volatility in more than
30 developing countries.
“The idea behind this project came from my readings on the middle-income trap, the
topic I have been interested in for a long time as someone coming from Vietnam, a
country that is thought to have been in the trap for years,” Le said.
“Many studies have shown that the main discrepancy between middle-income escapees
like South Korea and Singapore and non-escapees is that the escapees were able to
sustain rapid growth over the long decades of development, while the growth in the
non-escapees was constantly interrupted by economic downturns,” Le continued. “Therefore,
with my research, I am hoping to give a clearer picture of the economic and political
factors that are stopping developing countries from making the transition to high-income
Le, who is particularly passionate about development economics research, plans to
pursue a graduate degree in the field after completing her coursework at Illinois
“Having gone to Mark Israel Summer Research presentations since my freshman year in
college, I have witnessed the impact it has left on the students with the chosen proposals
as well as other students in the Economics Department,” Le said. “For me, I learned
that undergraduate students from a small college are totally capable of carrying out
sophisticated research in the areas of their intellectual curiosity.”
Recalling how important his undergraduate research experience was when he was a student,
Mark Israel ’91 established the Mark A. Israel ’91 Endowed Summer Research Fund in
Economics. Following graduation, Israel began a business career at State Farm, earned
a doctorate at Stanford and taught at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management
before returning to the business world. Today, he lives with his wife Melissa Best
’94 and their children in Washington D.C., where he is Senior Managing Director for
Compass Lexecon, one of the world’s leading economic consulting firms.
Since 2013, the research fund has enabled a student to collaborate on research each
summer with an economics faculty member.