Ryan Zamarripa is a senior professional staff member on the Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth, where he conducts research and organizes Congressional hearings on racial and ethnic disparities in labor market outcomes and wealth accumulation, among other general economic indicators. He most recently was a special assistant to Ambassador Katherine Tai in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, a position to which he was appointed after having served as the executive secretary for the same office on the Biden-Harris transition team. In 2020, Zamarripa held the volunteer leadership convenor role on the Regional Economies and Battleground States Subcommittee on the Biden-Harris presidential campaign. Prior to working in the Biden-Harris Administration, Zamarripa was the associate director for economic policy at the Center for American Progress and an economics fellow at Third Way. He holds a master’s degree in economics from Columbia University and bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and economics from Tulane University. A Los Angeles native, Zamarripa also served as an education volunteer with the Peace Corps in Tanzania.
What is your current position and how did the M.A. Program prepare you for your career?
I am currently a senior professional staff member on the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth. Since graduating from the M.A. program, I have found that the rigorous coursework to which I was exposed at Columbia has strongly prepared me to distill economic literature into language that is easily digestible to those less familiar with technical mathematical and econometric concepts. Writing my master’s thesis, which focused on the effects of public transportation subsidies on post-transfer wealth distribution in developing countries, likewise provided me with a solid foundation of research and writing skills on which to rely for later projects and literature reviews.
What skills or knowledge did you learn throughout the program that you found most useful in your career?
As someone who has worked almost exclusively in public policy and government since graduation, I have found that the knowledge to which I most commonly refer from the M.A. program is what I learned in the elective courses. While the core curriculum provided a solid base of conceptual and theoretical economics, the elective courses allowed me to learn more about how such ideas are applied to solving real-world problems.
What do you know now that you wish you knew during your time at Columbia University?
Columbia is an institution with a vast network of academics, researchers, and thought leaders who are often willing to engage with curious students. While in the master’s program, I thought that I didn’t have enough time to reach out to many of them. Looking back, however, I think 30-minute coffee breaks would have been time well spent.
How did your experience at Columbia University help you find your first position after graduation?
The research papers I wrote, including my master’s thesis, were often great writing samples to include with job applications that required them—especially those that explicitly sought applicants with strong technical and writing skills.
What advice would you give to current students of the M.A. Program?
After graduation, I took more time than most of my colleagues to settle into a path that I found fulfilling. I’ve found that the best way to begin a career in a new or unfamiliar field is simply to start reaching out to people whose work you admire or find interesting. Most of the time, people are more than happy to give advice, provide industry tips, and talk about their research or work. I have met people through LinkedIn, Twitter, and conferences to schedule coffees and calls, and I try my best to respond to those who reach out to me for the same.
What are some notable achievements, awards, or recognitions you have received since graduating?
I was selected to participate in the Biden-Harris presidential transition on the agency review team for the Office of the United State Trade Representative, where I helped prepare the incoming political staff to implement the Biden-Harris administration’s trade policy.