DeCoster wants to use the skills he gains from the MPP to improve health policy.
Headshoot of Dominic DeCoster
Dominic DeCoster

“While I always loved economics,” said Dominic DeCoster, “it wasn’t until I underwent brain surgery that I began to see the connections among economics, health care, and the impacts policies have on people’s daily lives.

“I had been studying economics and data science at Brigham Young University–Idaho, working to better understand how economic impacts reverberate across society. During my sophomore year, I was hospitalized after years of mysterious headaches. I was diagnosed with a Type 2 Chirari Malformation and subsequently told the best course of treatment would be brain surgery.”

DeCoster’s academic interest in health economics suddenly became very personal, and he fought through months of challenging recovery to return to college—with a renewed sense of purpose.

“Going through what I went through really showed me how chronic medical conditions siphon motivation from people,” DeCoster said. “Even more, I recognized how medical conditions are compounded by public policy choices.”

After returning to BYU-Idaho, DeCoster dove back into his studies, working as both a teaching assistant and research assistant for the economics department. He also interned as a financial data analyst for a private company. “With my internship, I was able to really explore skills in R and Python and develop my quantitative background more broadly,” DeCoster said. But he wasn’t quite satisfied with the skill level he achieved through his college education alone. “I wanted to reinforce my quantitative background beyond an undergraduate level. For example, the highest class that was offered in the computer science department at BYUI was machine learning, and it was only introductory. I wanted to go to graduate school to reinforce those skills.”

DeCoster said he looked no further than Harris. “It was actually the only school I applied to. Growing up in the Midwest, I looked up to the University of Chicago, and I knew it was the place I needed to be.” DeCoster said he was drawn to the Harris Master of Public Policy program specifically because of its rigorous course of learning and expansive skill development. “I realized it would take me years as a professional to achieve that level otherwise, and I saw that Harris would allow for immediate value contribution in both the private and public sectors,” DeCoster said. “The merging of quantitative and data skills that Harris emphasizes empowers people to translate data into information to build effective policies. Plus,” he added, “I’m also an avid follower of the work of Katherine Baicker and David Meltzer.”

After earning his degree at Harris, DeCoster aims to end up in health policy at a regional or national think tank. “Policy decisions like medication affordability, transportation to appointments, access to healthy diets, stable employment, and safe housing all build into these medical conditions that are larger than health issues,” he said. “Health issues aren’t solely determined in a doctor’s office—social determinants of health can be a big factor, and too often our current policy fails people. I’d like to help correct that.”