Williams pursued the DPSS to pivot back into academia and is now applying to economics PhD programs to join the fight to end global poverty.
Headshot of Brandon Williams
Brandon Williams

Brandon Williams, born and raised in a small town in southeastern Wisconsin, didn’t intend to ever leave his home state. It wasn’t until he was in his final years of studying Economics and Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that he felt compelled to explore the world. “I started to get this feeling that I was really missing out on something. Just being so self-contained in that trajectory of hometown life propelled me eventually into a lot of different experiences abroad.” 

The first of these experiences occurred right after graduation: Williams enrolled at the University of Science and Technology of China to pursue a master’s degree in Management Science and Engineering, with the intent of eventually pursuing a career in business. In addition to working on his degree and learning Mandarin, Williams also teamed up with a friend to open a brewery while abroad. He began to realize, however, that his passions lay outside of the business world. “What I was seeing is that there was such a huge clash in terms of what my expectations of China were, and what I ended up seeing there. It really started driving me toward thinking about what I had learned in college in terms of economics versus what I was seeing in terms of poverty.” 

By the time he returned to the US, Williams knew that he wanted to pursue a career in international development. He did so first by joining the Peace Corps, where he worked as an economic development volunteer in Cajamarca Province, Peru. He continues to pursue this passion in his current role with Chicago-based nonprofit Lions Club International, where he coordinates funds for global health initiatives. 

Williams, however, wanted to dive still deeper. 

“I found that I was thriving the most when I was in the thick of learning something new. I was really leaning toward something more academically based, and so I started looking at programs that could serve as a bridge back into academia.” 

For Williams, the Data and Policy Summer Scholar (DPSS) program was that bridge. "I was especially drawn to it because of the program’s focus on research—it helped me solidify my decision to pursue a PhD. My DPSS experience was sort of my nudge and affirmation that I can do this—that sort of intense academic life after a couple of years of working.” 

In addition to helping him decide whether to pursue a PhD, Williams says that the most impactful part of participating in DPSS was meeting and collaborating with new people from different backgrounds. “DPSS was inspiring because some of my classmates were pursuing pretty radically different things than I am, and it made me think outside of the box about my next steps.” 

Williams is currently awaiting decisions to Economics PhD programs and hopes to eventually utilize that degree in the fight to end global poverty. “In a world where we have the resources necessary to end poverty, it’s becoming increasingly more a choice, rather than something that we don’t have the ability to do. At a large scale we have to think, What programs can we do? How do we get people to buy into these programs and support them at a regional or national level? Those are the questions I think about all of the time.”