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Four Decades of Success

The pioneering MMSS program celebrates 40 years of preparing students to pursue innovative careers that bridge business and the social sciences

By Daniel P. Smith

As head of global credit for Citadel, a leading Chicago-based investment firm, Ryan Garino ’98 ran a 50-person team that included traders, portfolio managers and quantitative researchers.

Some might have found the challenge of managing a diverse team, along with an ever-mounting accumulation of data, a daunting task. Not Garino, who drew on his experience in the College’s Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences program to gain clarity and direction.

“As an MMSS student, I learned to be comfortable with data and how to approach analysis creatively to get solutions,” says Garino, who recently retired from Citadel following a 15-year career at the firm.

Garino is among nearly 1,200 students who have graduated from the MMSS program since 1978. The program equips students to drive informed decision-making in areas such as the environment, politics, entrepreneurship and public safety.

“The skills MMSS provides are made for the real world,” Garino says. “They allow you to be numerate and data-oriented in your approach to problem solving in a world where numeracy is increasingly more important yet less prevalent.”

A one-of-a-kind program

This year, the MMSS program — an offering that is unique to Northwestern University — will celebrate its 40th year with a gala celebration on May 24.

The program sprung from the recognition by founders Michael Dacey, a geography professor, and Harold Guetzkow, a political science professor, that quantitative tools could address and perhaps even solve social problems. They designed the program to blend the advanced study of social sciences and mathematics within the context of the arts and sciences.

And for the last four decades, MMSS has fulfilled that mission.

“There’s nothing else like MMSS in the country,” says MMSS director Jeff Ely, the Charles E. and Emma Morrison Professor of Economics.

Once described by an alumnus as “economics on steroids,” MMSS students study mathematics, statistics and formal modeling along with a second major in the social sciences. Economics, psychology and political science are the most popular choices.

As participants in a selective program that enrolls about 40 students each year, MMSS students develop tight bonds as they pursue a challenging curriculum. During the program’s annual winter dinner, MMSS seniors share their insights into the internship and job-search process with younger students. A spring dinner showcases accomplished professionals, such as Kellogg School of Management professor Ben Jones, an economist whose research specializes in innovation.

“It’s a rigorous program, but the esprit de corps among a group of bright, motivated students still sticks with me today,” Garino says.

The 12-course program culminates with a senior thesis in which students produce a substantial piece of original research in social-science analysis. Recent projects have tackled topics such as the pricing of supermarket goods, cyclist safety on urban streets, the effect of incivility in partisan media on the electorate and banking policy recommendations for disparate countries.

Adding value

As data increasingly permeates every aspect of life, MMSS faculty and students are using their skills to address real-world issues. Over the years, many students have worked with big-city police departments to evaluate policy and operational questions, such as the relative success of new police recruits and deployment strategies. Prior to his death in 2006, program co-founder Dacey even shared his skills with Weinberg College administrators as they determined the optimal allocation of resources.

MMSS students have the ability not only to present data, but also to extract reliable insights, a skill that Ely says opens career paths beyond traditional math and science roles. MMSS alumni are thriving in business consulting and academia, finance and retail, insurance and startups.

“Word has gotten out that these students appreciate the complexity of data, yet still have the optimism and training to understand what can be modeled and formalized as well the conclusions that can be drawn using rigorous theory and empirical methods,” Ely says.

The result: a program that remains unique and groundbreaking, decades after its founding.

“The social sciences are the messy sciences, and it can be hard to get a grip on them,” Ely says. “Still, the MMSS program has been advancing this interdisciplinary marriage for 40 years with great success and strength.”

Learn more and register for the MMSS program’s 40th-year celebration

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