Carnegie Mellon University
June 22, 2020

Shaping the Research That Informs Inclusive Policy

EPP PhD student Octavio Mesner is fascinated by ripple effects — or, as epidemiologists call them, casual pathways.

For instance, he never imagined being diagnosed with a language processing disorder as a child would lead to his focus on math, which led him to a master's degree in biostatistics, which ultimately led him to pursue a combined Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University in engineering and public policy and in statistics and data science.

But he now sees the ways in which his early emphasis on STEM contributed to his methodical research habits. He knows that the increased effort he had to put toward learning to read helped him build the resilience necessary to embark upon graduate statistics classes without having studied this subject before. "It's amazing to me how you can use data and statistics to inform policy," he said. "I want to see, quantitatively, what outcomes we can expect with each policy alternative."

Policy is not Mesner's first vocation. Initially, he wanted to join the priesthood. Such a journey seemed at odds with his identity as a gay Latino, but Mesner said, "I wanted my life's work to contribute to social good." Mesner was a bit of an outlier among the friars. In a space where most students focused on philosophy, Mesner majored in math. 

Following a break from Catholicism, Mesner felt a bit unmoored. Still aiming to devote his work to the greater good, he decided to pursue a master's degree in biostatistics. Once he completed his master's, Mesner was recruited by his department chair to work for a collaborative nonprofit funded by both the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. The infectious disease clinical research program taught Mesner how poignantly numbers could tell a story and, ultimately, led him on the path to utilize his technical knowledge to create meaningful policy changes.

To read the full story about Mesner, go here.