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MIT economics professor wins $215K MacArthur Fellowship

CAMBRIDGE, MA--MIT Associate Professor of Economics Michael Kremer was one of 23 MacArthur Fellows named yesterday (June 16).

Known as "the genius prizes," the fellowships have been awarded since 1981 by the John and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago to persons and groups that "foster lasting improvement in the human condition."

As a MacArthur Fellow, Dr. Kremer, 32 years old, will receive $215,000 over five years-- "no strings attached." Recipients may use the awards as they please, with no papers or reports required by the foundation.

Dr. Kremer, who has an AB in social studies (1985) and PhD in economics (1992) from Harvard University, creates models that answer basic economic questions in lucid and original ways. His work provides clear and accessible answers to questions such as, "Why do some economies grow faster than others?" and "How can we explain wage inequality?"

Committed to educational improvement in the Third World, Dr. Kremer founded WorldTeach, an organization that supplies teachers to developing regions and has offices in 11 countries worldwide.

"I'll probably use part of the award to do research on education in developing countries," said Dr. Kremer, who developed an interest in African education when he taught at the Eshisiru Secondary School in Kenya's Kakamega district after graduating magna cum laude from Harvard.

Dr. Kremer, a resident of Cambridge, learned about the award when he returned from a one-week visit to Kenya yesterday. "I haven't had time to think about celebrating," he said. "I'm still suffering from jet lag."

Dr. Kremer joins an elite group of MIT faculty who have won MacArthur Fellowships, among them Professors Jed Z. Buchwald, Noam Chomsky, Evelyn Fox-Keller, John H. Harbison, Eric S. Lander, Heather N. Lechtman, Richard C. Mulligan, David C. Page, Michael J. Piore, Charles F. Sabel, Richard Stallman, Alar Toomre and Jack Wisdom.

A native of Manhattan, Kan., where both his parents teach at Kansas State University, Dr. Kremer does not think the fellowship will affect his life dramatically. He loves teaching at MIT and plans to continue "as long as they'll have me." He also plans to continue his research.

"The great thing about the MacArthur Fellowships is the flexibility," Dr. Kremer said. "Government grants are great, but the application process take time. With this, as soon as a research opportunity presents itself I can take advantage of it."

The MacArthur Foundation invites up to 125 persons to serve anonymously as nominators, or "talent scouts," each year. Individuals cannot apply for MacArthur Fellowships.

Nominators are selected for expertise in their fields and the ability to identify exceptional creativity. They serve anonymously for one year. Their nominations are evaluated by a 12-member selection committee, which also serves anonymously and makes its recommendations to the foundation's board of directors. The board makes the final decision. Typically, 20 to 30 fellows are selected each year.

Including the 1997 recipients, a total of 502 Fellows ranging in age from 18 to 82 have been named since the program began. There are 148 fellows currently receiving fellowship support.

Besides Dr. Kremer, the 1997 recipients worked in fields as diverse as evolutionary biology, dance and telecommunications policy. All receive $150,000 to $375,000 over five years, depending upon the age of the recipient.

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