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Romina Tomé PhD’20 is the first person conduct her doctoral defense virtually at the Sanford School. Her dissertation, “Three Essays on Pre-Natal Experiences and Human Capital Accumulation," explores whether a Brazilian policy closing bars earlier had an impact on fetal health and other intersections of health and policy.

Tomé grew up in Argentina in a small agricultural/cattle-ranching community, Trenque Lauquen. She didn’t set out to be an applied microeconomist. As a first-generation college student, she initially studied business.

“I sat in class thinking: this is not for me,” she remembers, adding that she was looking for a deeper way of thinking.

Soon she discovered economics. She earned an undergraduate and master’s degree and then worked in Washington, DC, before deciding to pursue a PhD.

Facing adversity

Tomé’s father passed away unexpectedly her first year in Durham. She considered returning home, but decided finishing her PhD is what her father would have wanted. She also knew the Sanford community would support her.

Tomé’s advisor, professor Marcos Rangel, was “amazing” with both strong knowledge of economics, and a great sense of humor.

“He’s a wonderful person,” she says. “I went through rough things and he was always showing the personal side, and not just the academic side.”

Screenshot of a Zoom Meeting

When it came time to defend her dissertation in late March, North Carolina was responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Duke campus was closed. At first Tomé was disappointed that she wouldn’t have an in-person  defense. But there were positives. Her boyfriend had helped her prepare for her defense, and he was able to be in the room, and listen to her presentation.

The Sanford School shared a Zoom screen shot of Tomé smiling broadly along with the committee members. Through the power of social media, word got out in her hometown of Trenque Lauquen. People called her mom to share in the good news. It felt like the whole town was congratulating her, Tomé marvels.

This summer,  Tomé will join the American Institutes for Research as an international development economist.