The Charger Blog

Liberty Initiative Program Fosters Student Opportunities and Outcomes

The University of New Haven’s Liberty Initiative enables students to engage in important and timely real-world research and consulting projects while networking with leading professionals, businesses, and think tanks.

September 10, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Liberty Initiative group shot.
The Liberty Initiative offers opportunities to students in each of the University’s academic colleges and schools.

When Jamie Hickey ’22 was a sophomore at the University, she joined the Liberty Initiative. She says it has been an experience that has pushed her out of her comfort zone.

Focused on student outcomes, the Liberty Initiative enables “Liberty Scholars” such as Hickey to engage in real-world research and consulting projects. Students network with professionals and businesses and conduct impactful real-world research. Hickey says she is grateful for the many opportunities she has had to build important skills, as well as enhance her confidence.

“I have made great connections and built relationships with my fellow Liberty Initiative scholars, on a professional and personal level, as well as with the professors who guide us through the research process,” said Hickey, an economics major with a minor in finance. “Alongside my fellow scholars, I have held events to present our findings from our first paper to more than 40 people, something I thought I could never do.”

Liberty Initiative Presentation.
Students learn from guest speakers as part of the Liberty Initiative.
‘I’m grateful to have this opportunity’

Hickey’s first paper, Connecticut's Drug Paradox, assessed the impact of drug criminalization on the economy, as well as on drug users and underserved individuals. She is now working on a project titled Poverty and Violence, and she and her fellow researchers are exploring whether there is a correlation between living or growing up in poverty and violent crime.

Open to students of all majors, the Liberty Initiative students say it is an immersive way for students to build important skills that will prepare them for their education or career path post-graduation. Students conduct major research projects on a variety of pressing and multidisciplinary social and economic issues, which they can submit for publication in respected journals. They also present their findings to leading Washington think tanks, work as paid consultants, serve as mentors, and host guest speaker events.

Jamie Hickey ’22, an economics major.
Jamie Hickey ’22, an economics major.

Gabrielle Tayag ’21, ’22 MBA, one of Hickey’s fellow Liberty Scholars, collaborated with her on both projects. They will be presenting their findings at the American Society of Criminology conference in Chicago later this fall along with Maria Tcherni-Buzzeo, Ph.D., an associate professor of criminal justice.

“My hope is for the research to make a strong enough impression to inspire actual change,” said Tayag. “I hope our work helps make even one person’s quality of life better by using the information to inspire action. I am excited about this opportunity to share our work. I have never attended a conference like this, and never imagined I would be speaking at one. I’m grateful to have this opportunity to learn and grow as a presenter, academic, and professional.”

‘Liberty Scholars gain experience working with serious constituencies and companies’

John Rosen, MBA, an adjunct economics professor at the University, serves as co-director of the program, along with Dr. Tcherni-Buzzeo and David Sacco, MBA, a practitioner in residence in the University’s Finance Department.

Prof. Rosen says the Liberty Scholars’ work has helped them get into their preferred careers or graduate programs. He says the program was designed to be self-funding and self-sustaining.

“Students create, develop, and defend their own work as interns for paying consulting clients, contributors to national academic conferences, and researchers for think-tanks across the country,” said Prof. Sacco, who also serves as executive director of MCAWorks, a leading global marketing and strategy consultancy. “In doing this – and doing it well – our Liberty Scholars gain experience working with serious constituencies and companies in person outside of the University, preparing them for real-world jobs upon graduation, and earning competitive salaries.”

Ashlyn Mercier ’23 presenting.
Ashlyn Mercier ’23 presents her research on affordable housing.
‘Joining the Liberty Initiative has helped me grow’

Ashlyn Mercier ’23 says she is grateful to have had the opportunity to expand her knowledge of economics while collaborating on a project that could make a real impact. She is part of a team studying affordable housing in Nevada, as well as what can be done to address the shortage of it. She focused her research on the lessons that can be learned from other cities, towns, and countries, such as the Netherlands.

Mercier and her teammates recently presented their findings virtually to the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a think tank, via Zoom. The group members presented their research, discussing the economics of housing and offering recommendations for increasing affordable housing.

Gabrielle Tayag ’21, ’22 MBA.
Gabrielle Tayag ’21, ’22 MBA.

“The Liberty Initiative has been a great hands-on learning experience,” said Mercier, a national security major. “Any other student who has an interest in economics should consider the Liberty Initiative. I have grown so much as a student and researcher because of the program.”

Students have taken part in a variety of projects with faculty members that explore local, nationwide, and global issues. Scholars have, for example, researched the effects of California wildfires on migration, the impact of Argentina’s politics on its economy, and the impact of COVID-19 on technology equities.

For Hickey, the economics major, her work as a Liberty Scholar has already led to an internship with Professors Rosen and Sacco. She’s looking forward to continuing her work during the current academic year.

“I have been fortunate to conduct impactful research with these professors and now to be learning from them in a workplace environment,” she said. “Joining the Liberty Initiative has helped me grow and has opened doors for me that I never thought possible. I have expanded my resume and skillset, made great connections, and have been offered great opportunities to network.”