Scholars Highlight Pardee RAND's 'Special Sauce'

Event Celebrates the Transformative Power of Scholarship Support

2024 Pardee RAND Scholarship Dinner at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND

Jason Matheny, Nancy Staudt, Robert Hammesfahr, Susie Hammesfahr, Shona Olálérè, Zetianyu Wang, and Thomas Van Bibber at the 2024 Scholarship Dinner

Photos by Diane Baldwin/RAND

February 29, 2024

Gratitude may have been the theme of the evening at Pardee RAND's annual scholarship dinner on February 22, but the event's speakers also highlighted unique aspects of the school—its "special sauce," as one student described it—and how donations make a difference in the future of public policy.

The three student speakers—Shona Olálérè (cohort '22), Thomas Van Bibber ('22), and Zetianyu Wang ('21)—each came to Pardee RAND for different reasons.

Olálérè learned about Pardee RAND while working as a technical assistant for Nigeria's National Development Plan. "What struck me most was the school's unique approach to education, epitomized by a quote that resonated deeply: 'Our professors teach not because they have to, but because they love to.'"

“As the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, I yearned to redirect my focus toward research that could make a tangible difference.”

—Zetianyu Wang, cohort '21

Wang had applied to Pardee RAND but initially chose a Ph.D. program in public health. "But as the world grappled with new challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, I yearned to redirect my focus toward research that could make a tangible difference." He said the "rigid structure of my previous program" led him to "re-examine the unique qualities that define Pardee RAND," so he reapplied and was thrilled to be accepted once again.

Van Bibber had studied public policy and physics as an undergrad and came to Pardee RAND after three years analyzing business insights for McDonald's Corporation. "I realized a profound need to connect my career with my passions, ... but for most graduate schools, a McDonald’s employee likely doesn’t jump off the page as a typical applicant."

"Fortunately for me," he continued, "Pardee RAND is not like most graduate schools, and there is no such thing as a 'typical applicant.' Sure, our students are all motivated, intelligent, and care deeply about policy issues, but beyond that they are impossibly diverse, as evidenced from the conversations had tonight and the student speeches as well."

Wang joined Van Bibber in his praise of the program. "Pardee RAND and RAND have provided me with an extraordinary, interdisciplinary platform to learn and grow. Here, I don't confine myself solely to public health but also engage with pressing global challenges such as technology governance, climate change, and Truth Decay. This enriching experience not only expands my understanding of the world but also offers fresh perspectives on public health issues."

“I have found no other institution that melds passion for solutions, knowledge, and rigorous analysis with intellectual humility quite like Pardee RAND does.”

—Shona Olalere, cohort '22

Olálérè agreed, adding, "I have found no other institution that melds passion for solutions, knowledge, and rigorous analysis with intellectual humility quite like Pardee RAND does."

Along with the students, guests heard from donor Robert Hammesfahr, who—along with his wife Susie—has supported RAND and the school for several years. In explaining their decision, he cited Warren Buffett's advice on philanthropic support: look for organizations with a mission that is unique, difficult, and complex; that will have meaningful impact; and that act entrepreneurial and are overlooked by mainstream foundation funders.

"We think giving to Pardee RAND and its students fits these criteria. The mission to promote grounded, deep public policy research is difficult, complex, and unique. Good public policy has meaningful impact. And the school’s leadership, faculty, and students are entrepreneurial—and funding outstanding graduate students is needed."

"Our gifts, and similar gifts, underscore our hope for the future. Can an individual gift make a difference? We think the answer is yes."

Wang thanked Hammesfahr and the other donors in attendance. "Your support fuels the most unique Ph.D. program globally, enabling young public policy researchers like myself to think boldly, act freely, and contribute meaningfully to evidence-based policymaking. Your commitment empowers us to tackle complex challenges with innovation and resilience."

“It is the help of folks in this room that allows Pardee RAND to build such unique cohorts and take chances on students like myself, and I am eternally grateful for that.”

—Thomas Van Bibber, cohort '22

Van Bibber concurred. "It is the help of folks in this room that allows Pardee RAND to build such unique cohorts and take chances on students like myself, and I am eternally grateful for that."

Olálérè added, "It is customary to say thank you for supporting us, individual students, and yes, we are indeed grateful. ... but more than that, I want you to leave with the thought that your generosity reaches beyond the people you are dining with in this room today, to communities in far-away Africa whose lives will be transformed by the difference we can make. Literally, people you may never meet."

Van Bibber brought the message full circle in his conclusion. "What I think is unique is not my individual story, but the mission of Pardee RAND: to invest in students from all walks of life, with completely different backgrounds, equip them with critical research tools, provide them with real-world applied experience and opportunities to succeed both within and outside RAND, and ultimately prepare them for an impactful career in policy research. That, as with a Big Mac, is Pardee RAND’s special sauce."

Selected Photos

2024 Pardee RAND Scholarship Dinner at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND
2024 Pardee RAND Scholarship Dinner at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND
2024 Pardee RAND Scholarship Dinner at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND
2024 Pardee RAND Scholarship Dinner at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND
2024 Pardee RAND Scholarship Dinner at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND
2024 Pardee RAND Scholarship Dinner at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND
2024 Pardee RAND Scholarship Dinner at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND
2024 Pardee RAND Scholarship Dinner at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND
2024 Pardee RAND Scholarship Dinner at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND
2024 Pardee RAND Scholarship Dinner at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND
2024 Pardee RAND Scholarship Dinner at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND
2024 Pardee RAND Scholarship Dinner at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND

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