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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Michelle Borges’ journey as an Economics graduate researcher

During the first week of the Fall 2022 semester, Michelle Augusto Borges finally enjoyed being a part of the Applied Economics Master’s program, as she stood among peers and listened to the live music of the “First Friday” concert. She glanced to the red eclipsed moon, thinking back on the journey that had led her to that point, and was ready for the change to come. 

Borges was born and raised in São Gabriel, a municipality of around 60,000 inhabitants located in the south of Brazil. Ever since she could remember, she has dreamt of pursuing a higher education in Santa Maria, a nearby city, and after diligent effort, Borges attended Universidade Franciscana, a private university on a full scholarship. She started her undergraduate studies in the spring of 2018, and being in the city opened many opportunities for her.

The Coca-Cola company was one of these opportunities, and Borges applied to work as a business intelligence intern in its business department. The role was based on building Excel spreadsheets to closely follow sales around the region, but Excel was an unfamiliar program for Borges, and she was rejected from the program twice. Still, she remained determined; on her third try she was accepted and began to familiarize herself with the role, learning Excel from the basics. 

“There, they taught me everything I know,” Borges said, thinking back. “I am always grateful to the supervisor I had then because he gave me the opportunity [and] had the patience to help me to develop my skills.” 

All the while, Borges moved through her undergraduate coursework. Most of the professors and peers in her program were male, and she faced hostility from them. She noted that this experience made her sensitive to feminist causes and drew her to the field of feminist economics. When she took a class in advanced econometrics, Borges met a pivotal professor: Denise Piper.

“She was amazing; she was brilliant. I am only taking a Master’s degree now because I had her as a professor for econometrics,” said Borges.

After completing her undergraduate degree, Borges wanted to explore the feminist economics perspective further and gain research experience. To do this, she proactively reached out to about 50 feminist economists and asked about their research, as well as potential opportunities.

During her process of contacting faculty, Borges connected with Professor Julie Nelson, a former faculty member at UMass Boston. Professor Nelson introduced Borges to UMass Boston and the Master’s program in Applied Economics.

“The main reason why I decided to come to UMass Boston was to learn more about feminist economics, and gender and economics in general,” Borges explained.

The next goal for her was to apply to the program. This was an uphill battle, given that international students interested in taking a Master’s degree in the U.S. are required to show proof of funds for the whole first year. This meant that Borges had to show proof of about 20 thousand dollars before thinking about stepping on the harbor-front campus. 

“I was desperate; I didn’t know what to do because studying abroad was my dream, so I had to think out of the box,” she said, letting out a laugh after remembering the exasperation of the process.  

Borges built a fundraising campaign to collect the money, so the university could issue her student visa. She raffled donated prizes and did a clever partnership with her favorite pizza shop—they donated 10 percent of the profits they made after a day of sales. This was due to her being a big fan of the restaurant, as well as receiving an award for tagging them the most on social media.

The most important part of her fundraising campaign was a series of speaking engagements at schools in Brazil where she spoke about learning English, the importance of education and the value of being engaged in volunteer opportunities. At the end of each speaking engagement, she invited participants to donate to her campaign. After four months, she was able to raise 60 thousand reals, roughly 12 thousand dollars, from over a thousand different donors. 

“ […] A lot of people didn’t have much, but they believed my potential and helped me,” she said, noting that social media played a crucial role in the campaign. On a weekly basis, she shared how much she had raised and how far she was from her goal on Instagram, WhatsApp and LinkedIn. 

When she finally rejoiced in her first week at UMass Boston during that First Friday concert, no longer pressured with financial worries, her Boston life began to flow. 

Her first term, she took econometrics and gender economics. Although she had learned English in Brazil from a young age, the English proficiency that was required in her lectures pushed her once more. 

“It’s different when you’re here, learning everything you learned in Portuguese in English again […] ” Borges said. “I had to process everything and then write in English.”  

This became even more pressing when she reflected on the hopes of everyone who had supported her in her fundraising efforts, but as she had done before, she put her determination to work and attained a full score on the last exam. 

Similarly, she remained engaged outside of the classroom, becoming a Portuguese tutor and econometrics TA. During the Spring 2023 she joined the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy as a data analyst and research assistant.

In this role, she led the efforts updating the report on “Brazilians in the United States and Massachusetts,” analyzing the data, drawing graphs and drafting descriptions for the whole report. This was released at the General Consulate of Brazil in Boston during early fall.

“My dream is to work in Washington, D.C. in an intergovernmental organization, such as the IDB and the World Bank,” she said, smiling widely and thinking of who she could become in the future. “Yes, my dream is to work at the World Bank.”

About the Contributor
Valentina Valderrama Perez, Features Writer