May 14, 2019

Top-ranked student Paul LaFond ’19 will study economics at the University of Chicago

Paul LaFond '19, the top-ranked student in the Class of 2019, is competitive outside the classroom, too. He's won 11 championship intramural T-shirts in badminton, basketball, handball, and wallyball.
Paul LaFond ’19, the top-ranked student in the Class of 2019, is competitive outside the classroom, too. He’s won 11 championship intramural T-shirts in badminton, basketball, handball, and wallyball.

By Vicki-Ann Downing

Paul LaFond ’19 (Bridgewater, Mass.), a quantitative economics major, is the top-ranked student in the Class of 2019 with a perfect 4.0 grade point average, the equivalent of an A in every course.

In the fall, LaFond will enter a master’s degree program at the University of Chicago to study economics, with plans to pursue a Ph.D. after that. He was accepted to graduate programs in economics or public policy at seven schools in all, including Brown, Columbia, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Boston University, and Indiana Bloomington.

“I’m interested in studying income inequality, social mobility, educational opportunities, and labor rights for middle- and low-income people,” LaFond said. “I am interested in research as a gateway to becoming an effective policymaker or nonprofit leader. I don’t want to do equations and hard math. I want to focus on what I’m passionate about.”

LaFond also was the top-ranked student at Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School. Invited to tour Harvard University as a high school junior, he set his sights on attending but was wait-listed for admission. Meanwhile, Providence College offered him a full academic scholarship with the opportunity to join the Liberal Arts Honors Program, and he accepted.

Four years later, LaFond is graduating without college loan debt. He also had the opportunity to conduct research with a practicing health economist, Dr. Michael Mathes, assistant professor of economics. Their studies resulted in a paper, “Effects of Serving Alcohol at Football Stadiums on Alcohol-Related Accidents,” which LaFond wrote.

LaFond estimates he spent about 50 hours on the project, in which he analyzed statistics from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System from 1975 to the present. Mathes and LaFond hope to publish their work in an academic publication, such as the Journal of Health Economics.

“At a major university I could have done research and contributed as part of a team,” LaFond said. “But I never could have been the only student working alongside the professor.”

Mathes said he was not surprised that LaFond attained the highest rank in the Class of 2019.

“As a student, he was hard-working, driven, and smart, and as a researcher, I often felt that I was working with a colleague rather than a research assistant,” Mathes said. “It has been my pleasure to work with Paul throughout his career at PC and, while he will be missed, I look forward to what he will accomplish in the future.”

College life wasn’t all academic for LaFond. A varsity athlete in baseball and golf in high school, he thoroughly enjoyed PC’s intramural program. He captured 11 coveted championship intramural T-shirts in badminton, basketball, handball, and wallyball while also competing in flag football, water polo, volleyball, and kickball.

“I’m incredibly competitive. I have to hold myself back sometimes,” LaFond said. “Growing up, I was the kid who was good at sports and who also happened to be smart. Now I’m the kid who’s smart and happens to be good at sports, too.”

He also studied piano this semester.

LaFond entered PC as an economics major because he enjoyed all subjects in high school.

“Economics seemed to be a middle ground between the hard sciences and the humanities,” LaFond said. “It was a placeholder for ‘undeclared.’”

His first mathematics class with Dr. C. Joanna Su, professor of mathematics, convinced him to minor in math. He also enjoyed the College’s signature Development of Western Civilization Program, taught by professors from English, history, philosophy, and theology.

“Civ was tremendous, to be honest,” LaFond said. “I underestimated how much I was going to learn.”

He completed a summer internship last year on Cape Cod with Reed Custom Soils, a division of A.D. Makepeace.

As the top-ranked student, LaFond will present the Class Oration during the Academic Awards Ceremony on Saturday, May 18, in Peterson Recreation Center.

“Everything worked out for the best,” LaFond said. “Providence is what you make it. You can invest yourself in the programs it offers. You can get face-to-face time with professors whenever you want — you don’t have to be the top student. For someone like me, who always got along better with adults and teachers, that was invaluable. That’s what Providence has going for it. I don’t think I could get a better education anywhere else.”