Through the support of a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a not-for-profit grant-making institution dedicated to the advancement of scientific knowledge, the Department of Economics at Spelman College will develop curriculum and programming to address the scarcity of Black women Ph.D.s in economics.
Nationwide, there are very few African Americans in economics professions, and fewer than 10 percent of underrepresented minorities are awarded advanced degrees in the discipline, said Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., president of Spelman and a member of the Sloan Foundation board of trustees.
“Economists and economic theory impact virtually every aspect of policy making in this country. Policies that shape finance, labor, education, public health, the criminal justice system are deeply influenced by economists and their research. Yet, the number of African Americans with Ph.D.s in economics has been declining for several decades,” Dr. Campbell said. “This groundbreaking grant from the Sloan Foundation seeks to reverse this trend by building on Spelman College’s strong mathematics and economics departments in a way that encourages more students to choose an academic path that leads to graduate studies, a Ph.D. in economics and a voice at important policy making decisions.”
In addition, the College will utilize the Sloan Foundation award to develop learning modules focused on economics for its annual summer bridge program and launch an initiative that provides financial support to students with an interest in economics graduate programs.
In order to give students real-world examples of careers in economics, the grant will fund the creation of a new distinguished speaker series that focuses on alumnae, and other women of color, who hold doctoral degrees in economics. The series will be open to students enrolled in various degree programs across the College.
“Adapting the Women in STEM Summer Program model for economics and bringing together other activities and experiences will afford Spelman students with portfolios enabling them to attain graduate degrees and become in-demand professionals in the field,” said Elizabeth S. Boylan, Ph.D., program director for the Sloan Foundation.
When compared to business, social science, STEM, and humanities, the field of economics continues to lag in representation, with little to no improvement indicated over time, said Marionette Holmes, Ph.D., C’90, associate professor and chair of the economics department at Spelman.
There are several factors that led to the low number of African American students enrolled in economic degree programs. Some students are intimidated by the high-level math classes needed to excel in the discipline, and there’s a perception that economics is a dry subject.
“I decided early on to pursue economics as a career,” said Dr. Holmes. “When I attended Spelman my father, who was a political science professor, suggested that if I really wanted to influence the landscape for African-Americans I should go into economics. He saw economics as a way to effect policy and make both a cultural and global impact.”