Skip to content

Maria Zhu Awarded the 2023 Montonna Fund

July 10, 2023

The assistant professor of economics received the honor for her work teaching undergraduate students.

Maria Zhu

Maria Zhu

Maria Zhu, assistant professor of economics and senior research associate in the Center for Policy Research, has received this year’s award from the Ralph E. Montonna Endowed Fund for the Teaching and Education of Undergraduates. 

The Ralph E. Montonna Endowed Fund is designed to support a professor with notable engagement in undergraduate education. Zhu is the recipient of the fund award for the 2023-24 academic year. She succeeds Azra Hromadžić, associate professor of anthropology.

Zhu’s specialties include labor economics, applied microeconomics and the economics of education. She has researched affirmative action, social networks in the labor market and instructor quality in higher education. For instance, she is currently studying how classmates in community colleges help one another find jobs and how people who were laid off receive job search help from former coworkers to better understand how social networks contribute to finding labor market opportunities. 

Additionally, she has explored differences in treatment between white students and students of color in academic settings. In studying racial disparities, Zhu has worked on projects analyzing school discipline techniques, finding differences between the severity with which Hispanic and Black students are disciplined compared to white students. She has also researched differences in how teachers assess Asian and white students, finding, for instance, that teachers consider Asian students to perform better than white students in the same class–even if the students are observationally the same.

Zhu aims to incorporate her research into her classes as a way to demonstrate the breadth of economics and its relevance to different fields. She says her passion for research combined with her love of economics is something she enjoys sharing with undergraduate students, sometimes for the first time within the distinction program. 

At Maxwell, Zhu directs the undergraduate distinction program within the Economics Department. In this role, Zhu teaches a two-semester course that supports undergraduate economics research, culminating in an economics-based thesis for students. 

The Dr. Ralph E. Montonna Endowed Fund for the Teaching and Education of Undergraduates was established with a gift from the honoree’s daughter, the late Mary Lou Williams ’50 B.A. (AmSt). Montonna earned a B.S. in chemistry from Syracuse University in 1916 followed by a Ph.D. from Yale University. In 1946, he was named director of research at Syracuse University. He died in 1952. 

Of note: His grandson is a Maxwell School alumnus: Brian T. Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and history in 2011. 

By Sophia Moore

Published in the Fall 2023 issue of the Maxwell Perspective

Communications and Media Relations Office
200 Eggers Hall