It was just five years ago that Michael Pesko, a young man from Shell Lake,
Wisconsin, walked across the graduation stage and turned his tassel, marking
the completion of his undergraduate degree at Hamline University. Using his Hamline
education, it did not take him long to accomplish many things, including
recently becoming a tenure-track faculty member at an Ivy League school.
Pesko came to Hamline because of a generous scholarship and for the opportunity
to play football. There, he triple majored in economics, management, and
English and served as vice president of the undergraduate student congress, twice
running for president. Pesko also participated in study abroad in Ireland and
Latin America, and engaged in collaborative research. That research and travel
abroad experiences motivated him to shift away from early plans to go to law
school and to instead focus on getting a PhD in economics.
graduating, Pesko volunteered for a year rehabilitating former gang members in Los
Angeles. Following that, he went to graduate school and quickly established
himself as an expert in the area of the economics of tobacco control, leading
to him consulting for the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC), and Arkansas Office of the Attorney General.
During his final year of graduate school, he worked at the CDC in Atlanta, continuing
empirical research on the prevalence and public health impact of cigarette
price minimization strategies. He will continue similar tobacco control research
and expand into other areas of health economics as a tenure-track faculty
member at Cornell’s medical school in New York City.
important thing I discovered at Hamline was that I loved doing research, and I
was given the opportunity and support to do it,” Pesko said. “I was able to
travel to Guatemala between my junior and senior year where I worked on my
honors thesis and solidified my interest in economics. I knew right then I
wanted to be an economist researcher. I found my vocation at Hamline.”
What sparked his interest in tobacco control work?
“In the spirit of social justice or contributing to something for the common
good, I wanted to find a research area where I felt like I was making a
tangible impact. I had the faculty support at my graduate school to specialize
in tobacco control and was very motivated to do so, considering that one third
of all deaths in the U.S. are tobacco related and almost all smoking starts
before the age of 18—when adolescents are probably not ready to make decisions
with life-long consequences. For these reasons, tobacco control seemed like a
good place to start a research agenda.”
Pesko’s next exciting challenge starts this fall, as he steps into his new role
as professor at Weill Cornell. There, he will be a researcher in the Division
of Health Outcomes, and he will teach classes on empirical research
methodologies to master’s level public health and PhD students.
But first, he’s heading to Russia, with a fellow 2007 Hamline graduate, Tim
McDonald, as the two have been invited along with 18 other young public policy
standouts from the U.S. to meet with policy leaders and government officials in
Moscow and St. Petersburg.
As he heads to his next adventure, he shared this advice with future Pipers: Seek out and seize the opportunities, and
then work hard.
“Do collaborative research. It’s a great opportunity, and Hamline provides assistance
for it,” he said. “And, if you have interest in more than one subject, don’t be
afraid to double or even triple major. I managed to do that and still graduate
in four years. Hamline makes it easy to get the classes you need to do that. If
the first thing you major in doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world.”
In fact, it might be the beginning of something great.