Montgomery decided to study public policy to help resolve the financial and structural disparities in communities.
Headshot of Ella Montgomery
Ella Montgomery

“Education and urban economics are the research fields closest to my heart,” said Chicago native Ella Montgomery, MPP Class of 2025. “I'm interested in doing research and identifying how communities form, how deleterious effects can be mitigated, and how to identify different ways to improve communities.”

Montgomery’s interest in economics first sparked during her senior year in high school when she served as a Teaching Assistant for an AP microeconomics class. Economics and education dovetailed while Montgomery earned her BA in economics from Loyola University, where she served as a Research Assistant on education policy. However, it was an internship at the Library of Congress that got her thinking about the impact of research.

“The Library of Congress research assistant internship was invaluable. Traditionally, when you submit for copyright, you submit your name, your location, and then the material you're copywriting. There are no gender, race, or other demographic characteristics. But the US Copyright Office had a new economist who wanted to be sure they were serving people equitably. My primary objective was to create a data set of that demographic and geographic information to help statistically determine who the Copyright Office was serving and where. This got me thinking about ways to study—and propose policy to resolve—the financial disparities and structural disparities in communities.”

Montgomery said she’s most interested in doing research on financial scarring. “Financial scarring explores the lingering mistrust Black people have of financial institutions and the government. After Reconstruction [1865–77], financial institutions were trying to get newly freed slaves money and integrate them into American society. However, there was a lot of understandable mistrust—of both the government and financial institutions. Generations later, this mistrust still exists and hurts Black communities. For example, many members of the Black community go to Currency Exchanges instead of banks. Since Currency Exchange takes out a part of their checks, people are losing money just trying to cash the check.”

Economics and education, Montgomery noted, seemed the ideal path for researching financial scarring—and it’s what made the Master of Public Policy at Harris Public Policy her choice for a graduate program. “What I want to do in my research—and then in policy advising—requires a lot of credibility, which itself is grounded in rock-solid research. And what you learn at Harris is how to do research. Plus, UChicago is a world class university—it's hard to go wrong with their school of economics.” 

Attending Diversity Visit Day, Montgomery said, confirmed for her that Harris was where she wanted to be. “I saw that there are people here like me, and that made me feel like I belonged here—and can really achieve something here.”

One of the key objectives Montgomery hopes to achieve while at Harris is to better understand financial scarring in the context of scarcity.  “I’m interested in how people make decisions and how policy can nudge people towards decisions that support their own best interest. Policy proposals frequently rely on economics, so having the ability to identify and define scarcity, I can perform a more quantitative analysis. The end goal,” Montgomery said, “is to unify analysis and effective policy and decision making.”