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Nobel Ideas

Purdue’s Krannert School of Management presented a public panel discussion and fireside chat with Nobel Laureate James Heckman in April as part of an Economic Ideas Forum that served as the inaugural event of the University’s recently renamed economic research center.

Sponsored by the Hugh and Judy Pence family, the panel discussion focused on interdisciplinary perspectives on early childhood development and highlighted the work of three Purdue faculty members: David Purpura, assistant professor of human development and family studies; Miguel Sarzosa, assistant professor of economics; and Sara Schmitt, assistant professor of human development and family studies.

Professor Justin Tobias, a senior associate dean of the Krannert School and head of the economics department, moderated the discussion. Heckman, the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor in economics at the University of Chicago, gave response comments. Widely considered an expert in the economics of human development, Heckman’s work has given policymakers insights into how people make decisions such as where to work and live.

Heckman, whose research focuses on understanding the causes of major social and economic problems, shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in economics for his work on the micro-econometrics of diversity and heterogeneity and establishing a sound causal basis for public policy evaluation. He has worked in the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago since 1973.

The fireside chat with Heckman was led by David Hummels, professor of economics and dean of the Krannert School. They discussed Heckman’s work and the influence that it has had on the economics profession and broader public.

The panel discussion and fireside chat also marked a name change for an economics research center that was created three and a half years ago by John Umbeck, a professor of economics, and Jack Barron, the Loeb Professor of Economics and former department head, with support from current department head Tobias. The center’s mission is to conduct empirical research in economics that is focused on the role of incentives and markets in public policy.

Recent gifts from two foundations gave the center a new name — the John H. Schnatter Center for Economic Research at Purdue — and will allow the Krannert School to hire additional economists.

The John H. Schnatter Family Foundation and the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation gave $8 million and $1 million, respectively. To maximize the impact, Purdue’s Office of the Provost is matching the gifts with $9 million in funding over the next six years.

“Heckman was an appropriate first guest because he is one of many Nobel winners from the University of Chicago,” Umbeck says. “That school has been our inspiration in starting this center. We wanted to gradually but purposefully recruit a continuous stream of young, talented professors who would advance in their careers to eventually answer some of society’s most important questions. That’s how Chicago became the school that it is, and that’s my hope for Purdue economics.”

“Economics research at Purdue is on the rise,” Hummels says. “We recently dedicated the seventh floor of the Krannert Building as a space for agricultural economics, the third floor as a center for public policy research, and we are on track to add more than a dozen new faculty members to the ranks of the Department of Economics. We aim to be one of the great centers of economic thought in the country.”

To learn more about the John H. Schnatter Center for Economics Research at Purdue, visit  To watch a video of David Hummels’ chat with James Heckman, visit