When Greg Ferraro graduated from the University of Maryland in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in finance and economics, he wasted little time in setting out to help his fellow man. For two years, he served in the Peace Corps in a rural village in Cameroon. He followed that with a nine-month stint as acting director for small nonprofit aid group in Haiti.

At a certain point though, he realized he needed more training if he was going to continue with the type of work he was called to. He found what he wanted in Fordham’s Graduate Program in International Political and Economy and Development (IPED), which is administered by the Graduate School in Arts and Sciences. This year, he will earn two masters degrees, in IPED, and economics.

“I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to move forward in this field and I wasn’t able to contribute as much as I had wanted to,” said Ferraro, a native of Armonk, New York.

“The IPED program really seemed like the best of all worlds in terms of practicality and theory.”

While pursuing his master’s, Ferraro conducted research on a little-understood but potentially large problem: cattle lead poisoning in India. After traveling to India and Bangladesh in the summer on a GSAS-funded fellowship he began working on a project titled Lead and Livestock: Estimating India’s Bovine Lead Exposure. The paper for the project, which he will present at the Northeast Agriculture and Resource Economics Association’s conference this June, uses Indian government data from 2010 to create a machine-learning model that tries to predict the total livestock fatalities due to lead exposure there.

“When I was at the site, people kept talking about how their livestock had been perishing very quickly with these very severe symptoms. After further research, I came to realize that it is a phenomenon, but it’s something that’s not really well-documented,” he said.

The problem stems from two realities of contemporary life in rural India. Livestock, which are in many cases the only form of capital poor families possess, are free to roam as they please, while lead battery recycling plants are poorly regulated. No one knows exactly how big the problem is though; Ferraro hopes that his paper can get the issue on the radar of the Indian government.

“I’m estimating that just due to car battery recycling, India lost millions of dollars in livestock assets, and the people who are most affected are poor rural farmers,” he said.

Ferraro is also the co-author of a meta-analysis study of all the research that’s been done on lead exposure in low and middle-income countries. The purpose of the study is to try to develop a “background,” or baseline level of lead exposure that a person can expect to have based on where they live. The study is being conducted in partnership with Pure Earth, an environmental research organization where Ferraro has been a research assistant since January 2019.

“It’s been a really great experience, and I think the meta-analysis especially is going to be meaningful when it comes out. It was nice to work with a team, and I gained a lot of the statistics knowledge,” he said.

Andrew Simons, Ph.D., an assistant professor of economics who taught Ferraro in his Econometrics and Agriculture and Development classes and supervised his research for the India lead study, said his dedication to a cause like this isn’t surprising, given his drive and initiative.

“Very often Greg would hang around after class and have some question that was probably a little bit more advanced than what we were talking about in class, and I would give him some answer about that and then the next week, he would have gone and read about it or thought more about it,” he said.

“Professors really appreciate that kind of self-driven inquiry and self-driven initiative, which he definitely has a lot of.”

Upon graduation, Ferraro will be traveling to Cote d’Ivoire on a Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship. Working with the country’s agriculture ministry, he hopes to use his expertise on data collection to help officials use low-cost, open-source software to create computer models for problems such as child labor and deforestation.

“There’s a lot of money that gets invested into trying to reduce child labor, and we’re not even sure if it’s effective or not. Obviously, I’m not going to resolve this issue on my own, but I think that even governments with low budgets should be able to start their own data management collection,” he said.

“Just being there and starting it, I think could have an impact.”

The trip has been delayed until January 1 due to the coronavirus pandemic. But as an Ironman Triathlete, Ferraro is used to taking the long view.

“I grew up in a more privileged background, and I had a lot at my disposal and was never in need. So, I’ve been motivated to perform work that I know has a positive social effect,” he said.

He’s also motivated by past failures, including times when he didn’t have the skills he needed.

“For all the things I have done well, I’ve had projects blow up,” he said, noting that past plans for both law school and doctoral studies have both fallen through.

“These are just some examples just to press the point that it’s not exactly a linear path, and I think I actually enjoyed that. Because for every step of the way, I’ve learned something, and it forces me to really sit down and work hard to get whatever it is. At the end of the day, I think I’m better for it.”


Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.