By Eric Ruble
The USC Price School of Public Policy is partnering with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as part of a new pilot program to promote research, engage diverse populations, provide mentorship opportunities, foster dialogue among faculty and students, and bring innovative work to our research centers.
Price Dean Dana Goldman recently welcomed Dr. Miesha Williams and Dr. Jevay Grooms to campus for the school’s first year-long “Diversity Initiative for Visiting Distinguished Scholars.” Both are economists with research focused on public policy.
The Office of the Provost was instrumental in bringing the program to fruition. Provost Charles F. Zukoski shared, “USC is deeply committed to fostering a community where diverse viewpoints are discussed in our scholarship and education. We are delighted to support the inaugural Diversity Initiative for Visiting Distinguished Scholars which is designed to enrich discussions and bring different perspectives to our dynamic student population.”
Both visiting faculty members plan to make significant strides in their fields while at the same time, bring broader perspectives to the Price community. Both professors will largely dedicate the fall semester to their research. In the spring of 2021 they will teach courses: Grooms will instruct “Economic Concepts Applied to Health,” while Williams will lead “Statistics for Policy, Planning and Development.”
Dr. Christopher Manning, USC’s first chief inclusion and diversity officer, says the program is well-aligned with the university’s overarching mission.
“Partnering with faculty from historically Black colleges and universities is crucial as we seek to build a more inclusive and innovative academic environment. This inaugural initiative at USC Price will help bridge the gap while empowering, promoting and expanding diverse perspectives,” he said.
A professor’s most precious resource: Time
Williams was drawn to economics during her undergraduate studies at Florida A&M University. At the time, she was fascinated by the rise in fuel prices during the Great Recession, but could only find answers to her questions in her Principles of Macroeconomics class.
“I’m a big-picture person. If I get the big picture, I can fill in the gaps. I’m deductive,” she said.
Since graduating from Florida A&M, Williams earned both her master’s and PhD in economics from the University of Alabama. She is now the academic program director and assistant professor of economics at Morehouse College in Atlanta and focuses on the effects of the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policies, national expenditure policies as well as economic disparities. She has published research on topics ranging from the economic impacts of COVID-19 to agricultural growth in South Africa.
Williams says the USC Price program will provide her with time to produce new lines of research – something that has been more limited due to her busy schedule at Morehouse.
“As a scholar, the most important thing you can have is your time,” she said. “This opportunity is good for me because I get time that I have been hoping for, wishing for, praying for.”
Williams believes adding Price to her extensive CV will help her distinguish herself for the remainder of her career. She said, “As an academic, if I want to go anywhere else, I have to stay active and I have to stay relevant. And that’s my hope: to stay active and relevant.”
Access to extensive research opportunities
Grooms and Williams have actually known each other for several years – something Grooms attributes to the fact that there are very few women of color with PhDs in economics. According to the American Economic Association, Black women represented just 2.7% of people who earned their PhDs in economics in 2019.
“A lot of the Black women or just Black economists in general gravitate toward each other because it’s nice to be able to see someone who looks like you who’s working in that same space,” said Grooms, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Grooms specializes in microeconomics and earned both her master’s and PhD in economics from the University of Florida. Originally from Los Angeles, Grooms received her bachelor’s from Loyola Marymount University. Her most recent research, published this summer partially supported by USC’s Resource Centers for Minority Aging Research (RCMAR), focused on substance abuse disorders among older populations and the role race plays in treatment. She co-authored the work with Dr. Alberto Ortega, a RCMAR alumni and fellow with the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics. “As we continue to move forward and make improvements, it’s important that we don’t forget those who were impacted previously from these really harsh policies that have a racial component to them.”
Grooms’ prior research has focused on access and outcomes relating to substance use and mental health. While at Price, Grooms hopes to focus her research efforts on disparities in health care.
“The idea of bias and racial bias – whether implicit or explicit – in health care is really what I want to focus on when I’m here,” she said.
As a Black female economist, Grooms says she cherishes mentoring students and looks forward to doing so at USC. “It is part of what I love about being a professor,” she said.
However, her time dedicated to research during the fall semester will allow her to take advantage of USC’s vast resources, particularly within the Schaeffer Center and the Keck School of Medicine.
“I’m really excited to have this time to focus on my research and to start building some projects that hopefully I’ll continue to work on even after I leave USC,” she shared.
Part of the Price School’s mission is developing solutions for society’s most pressing problems – and that vision can only be realized by making sure that diverse perspectives and scholars are at the forefront of every conversation.
Grooms added that she is eager to conduct research alongside a fresh set of experts who have not yet worked with her. “Being able to be around different colleagues with a health focus is really useful in pushing me to be outside my comfort zone and also giving me feedback that I wouldn’t necessarily get at my home institution. [I am] able to present research and get feedback from some of the top researchers in the field – and many of them are right here, at USC.”