Challey Spotlight: NISS cohort

The Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth is highlighting the impact of our faculty and students at NDSU and in the community. This month, we are shining a spotlight on the first cohort of New Institutional Social Science graduate students.

Challey Spotlight: New Institutional Social Science

Corbin Clark, Elisha Denkyirah, Kole Nichols

The New Institutional Social Science graduate certificate explores a multidisciplinary perspective on the study of institutions and how they affect and are affected by society. Students are exposed to diverse tools and ideas as they learn how institutions guide our political, economic, and social interactions. The program launched in fall 2021 with support from the Challey Institute and the Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise.

Meet our first cohort:

  • Corbin Clark is pursuing a master’s degree in agribusiness and applied economics at NDSU. Originally from Minneapolis, he received his bachelor’s degree in economics from NDSU, with minors in philosophy, math, and science. He is currently working on his master’s dissertation, which uses the synthetic control method to analyze the impact of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy on economic growth. Corbin plans to complete his master’s program later this year; after which, he hopes to obtain a job doing applied policy research. His advisor is Challey-PCPE Scholar Dr. Veeshan Rayamajhee.
  • Elisha Denkyirah recently completed his master’s in international agribusiness at NDSU. He has been accepted into the doctoral program for the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Texas Tech University for fall 2021. Earlier this summer, he successfully defended his thesis titled “Marijuana Legalization Effect on Opioid Abuse: A Synthetic Control Approach.” His advisor was Challey-PCPE Scholar Dr. Raymond March. Elisha grew up in Ghana, where he received his bachelor’s degree in agricultural science and a master’s degree in agribusiness from the University of Ghana. He came to the U.S. in 2019 with the dream of becoming a university professor.
  • Kole Nichols is pursuing a master’s degree in agribusiness and applied economics at NDSU. Originally from Moorhead, he attended NDSU and received his bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science. He will present his thesis this fall on research analyzing the effect of property tax relief on K-12 education expenditures in North Dakota. He has already secured a position as a data analyst at the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee in Washington, D.C. His advisor is PCPE Director Dr. Jeremy Jackson.

The certificate is truly interdisciplinary. As part of the program, you each attended the Challey Institute’s IDEAS workshop, which invites speakers to talk about a wide range of research topics. Which presentation stuck with you the most?

Kole: There was one presentation about the rural brain drain that I found particularly interesting. We heard from a rural sociologist from Minnesota, and I thought his ideas were especially relevant for our region.

Corbin: There were a few presentations on COVID which I thought were interesting. It just shows how quickly research can get done.

You all just presented a research project for the summer capstone class. Can you tell me about your projects?

Kole: My project was a derivation of my thesis. I built on Dr. Richard Wagner’s paper Fiscal Illusion, Revenue Structure and Budgetary Choice (1976). He developed an index to determine if the level of complexity of government revenue structures leads to an increase in government expenditures. I extended that to the state level and used a time series panel regression to examine his theory.

Corbin: My project was also thesis-adjacent. I was trying to find if natural disasters have an impact on formal and informal institutions. So far, the conclusions aren’t too strong in either direction, which is what the research predicted. But I think this project will help my actual thesis be a little more in-depth.

Elisha: Since I completed my degree program, I did my project on a proposal from new institutionalism in political science. I wanted to know the direction of causality between election outcomes and government spending, so whether government spending results in electing incumbents and also whether the election outcome leads to government spending.

What did you learn through the process?

Kole: I thought it was amazing to learn Python in this class. I was always intimidated to learn different coding languages, but in two months, I learned just as much as in a full semester. I think learning Python and undergoing the exploratory process were the most beneficial parts of the capstone.

Elisha: We also learned other methods during the six-day intensive workshops, including how to empirically analyze models. I think that was really helpful. The certificate program has given me a new area of research – new institutions – and that will be another aspect that I can pursue in addition to international economics and development economics.

How has philanthropic support impacted you as a graduate student at NDSU?

Corbin: I would not have had an option to be here without the support. It has allowed me to focus a lot more on the studies. When I was an undergraduate student, I had to work part-time jobs to be able to pay for it, and now I can focus on the actual studies and my career goals instead of putting my time and effort toward an unrelated job.

Kole: I am in the same boat [as Corbin]. The financial support helps you to dial-in and really just learn a lot. Thank you!

Elisha: As someone from a low-income family in Africa, scholarship funding is everything for a person like me. I don’t think I can say anything less than that. It has really helped me to further my studies, and now I am moving forward to my dream of obtaining a Ph.D.

The Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth aims to advance understanding in the areas of innovation, trade and institutions to identify policies and solutions that enhance economic growth and opportunity. Learn more at
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