This summer, Professor Austin Wright led the Data and Policy Summer Scholar (DPSS) and International Policy Action Lab (IPAL) programs in a research project on Covid-19 mask mandates.  

Teaching Fellows Geet Chawla, MPP Class of 2021, Luke Chen, MACRM Class of 2020, and Anthony Farmer, MPP Class of 2021, worked alongside Wright on a research paper, “Tracking Mask Mandates During the Covid-19 Pandemic.” We asked the Teaching Fellows about their experience this summer.  

 How did you get involved in this project? 

 Anthony Farmer: This summer I worked as a Teaching Fellow for the DPSS program. At the end of our program, we have the opportunity to collaborate with students in data collection and exploratory analysis regarding a topic they expressed interested in. This year there was obviously a high degree of interest in Covid-19, and this DPSS capstone project is the synthesis of our work together.  

Geet Chawla: After taking Statistics II with Professor Wright, I wanted to help him in his research so I could gain experience in applying economic tools in the real world. I reached out to Professor Wright, and he was happy to have me on board to assist him in this project as the lead Teaching Fellow for the IPAL

Luke Chen: I was already personally interested in studying the relationship between policy and behavioral responses to the threat of Covid-19 in the US. Reviewing the existing literature and transforming raw data into visualizations alongside both DPSS and IPAL students was very rewarding.

What were some of the highlights of working on this paper?

AF: Seeing such a large data source come together in such a short time was truly amazing. This would have taken a small team weeks to complete on their own, but as a class we were able to build a country-wide county level dataset regarding mask mandates. This level of granularity in the data, coupled with heterogeneity among states, will allow researchers to explore policy impacts in much finer detail.

GC: This was quite an exciting opportunity firstly because the database is the first of its kind in the US, and also because this can be used as a resource to other academics, researchers, and practitioners around the world. We have also kept the database open to feedback and additions—if there are changes in policies or corrections that we need to make, the data can be updated any time. 

LC: Seeing the completed dataset and visuals was extremely rewarding not only because I knew how much effort had been poured into it by students, my fellow teaching fellows, and Professor Wright, but also because I knew it represented the opening of new avenues of research. The knowledge that I had contributed to putting a new piece of information out into the world was, and continues to be, thrilling. 

 How was the virtual collaboration with students from around the world?

AF: It was wonderful! They raised issues we had not originally considered, which demonstrated how they developed both a hard skillset regarding data management and an intuition on how this data can be utilized in the future. 

GC: I was thrilled by the questions, suggestions, and findings that students put forth. The virtual format enabled more students to take the course, and that made the classroom more diverse and also helped students connect with each other across borders.

LC: I was pleasantly surprised by how well the virtual collaboration worked. The virtual program allowed students greater access to myself and the other teaching fellows.