UChicago alum selected as 2024 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow

Russell Legate-Yang, AB’22, to pursue research to improve K-12 public school effectiveness

Russell Legate-Yang, AB’22, has been selected as a 2024 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellow, which will support his doctoral studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Legate-Yang is one of this year’s 30 Soros Fellows, who were chosen for their achievements and their potential to make significant contributions to U.S. society, culture or their academic fields. Each fellow will receive up to $90,000 in funding to support their graduate studies.

Since 1998, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans has honored the contributions of immigrants and children of immigrants to the United States by investing in the graduate education of 30 New Americans each year. 

The son of Canadian and Chinese immigrants, Legate-Yang graduated from the University of Chicago in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics.

The highly competitive fellowship will support Legate-Yang’s pursuit of a Ph.D. in economics. His research focuses on understanding and improving K-12 public school effectiveness—work that he said is urgent, given that the COVID-19 pandemic reversed decades of learning gains and exacerbated already large education gaps.

“Targeted recovery efforts require that we first understand what works and why: Why do learning losses persist? Which schools and programs effectively help students?” Legate-Yang said. “We only get a few chances to pick a new neighborhood, job or school, and we cannot run experiments in our lives to decide. We need research to help us make effective and informed decisions.”

Legate-Yang said he learned to apply rigorous methods to study intractable problems as a student in the College. His dual-major coursework in math and economics helped him develop an analytical mindset and build a methodological toolkit for research, while the Core curriculum pushed him to think more broadly about social structures and approach problems from different perspectives. 

“Through diverse research projects in economics, political science and public policy, and especially my honors economics thesis, I learned to separate cause from chance in data and connect academic work to practical problems,” he said.

After graduating in 2022, Legate-Yang joined Blueprint Labs at MIT to study K-12 public school effectiveness with economists Josh Angrist and Parag Pathak. He also worked with New York City Public Schools to revamp the city’s school ratings system for its over 1,700 public schools and 1 million students. The revamped system considers students’ starting points before they enroll in a school, and will soon be deployed by the city for use by students, families and education policymakers.

Legate-Yang is looking forward for a career committed to advancing social good and giving back to communities that he said paved the way for him to reach this point. 

“I’m incredibly thrilled and grateful to join this community of fellows,” he said. “I would like to thank my family, Baba, Mom and Vivian, for encouraging me, allowing me, and teaching me to do what I’m passionate about every day. Thanks to my friends for having fun with me through it. And thanks to my partner Krithika, who inspires my life. I’d also like to thank my mentors and colleagues, whose investment in my work empowered me.”

In addition to being selected as a Soros Fellow, Legate-Yang was also chosen this year for the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which will support his graduate studies. 

Legate-Yang received interview support from the College Center for Research and Fellowships (CCRF), which supports College students and alumni who apply for nationally competitive fellowships.

Adapted from a story that was first published on the College website.