» Read Cecilia
Conrad (in her own words)
» Read Conrad's Faculty
California's Professor of the Year
Cecilia Conrad's selection as California Professor of the Year
gives Pomona a "three-peat."
selection of Cecilia Conrad, associate professor of economics at Pomona,
as 2002 California Professor of the Year completes a rather unique cycle
for Pomona College. This is the third consecutive year that a Pomona professor
has won the award. Together, the three winners represent a new generation
of women teacher-scholars, according to Pomona College Vice President
for Academic Affairs Gary Kates.
These three women are changing the curriculum in profound ways and
offering different models in education and scholarship, Kates says.
Cecilia Conrad, in economics, perhaps in the most traditional field,
teaches courses on the effects of race and gender on poverty. Nicole Weekes
work is in the cutting-edge field of neuroscience, the intersection between
psychology and biology. Katherine Hagedorn, who received the honor in
2000, teaches ethnomusicology, not Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. These fields
were not here 20 years ago. At Pomona, this generation of women professors
is making tremendous contributions to all three of the Colleges
divisions, the social sciences, the natural sciences and the humanities.
Conrad was selected to receive this years honor by the Carnegie
Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement
and Support of Education.
In the words of colleague Eleanor Brown, a fellow economics professor
at Pomona, Professor Conrad is a wildly popular teacher. The
line of students hoping to get into her Race and the Economy class this
term spilled out of her classroom and down the halls of the building.
One reason, according to former student Melinda Chung, Pomona Class of
2002, is that Professor Conrad exudes enthusiasm and passion for
She fills classes with anecdotal stories and personal experiences
that bring subject matter to life and bring theory to a more accessible
Outside the classroom, Conrad focuses her research on the impact of race
and gender on economic status in the United States. She is currently researching
firm recruitment practices and employment of minority workers.
Her teaching prowess and contributions to her students were also recognized
earlier this year when she was named a Wig Distinguished Professor by
a vote of the junior and senior classes.
Conrad (in her own words)
to describe her teaching philosophy as part of her nomination for this
award, here is Professor Cecilia Conrads description of her workin
her own words.
On one of my course evaluations, a student wrote, I strongly suspect
that economics is not nearly as much fun as Professor Conrad makes it
seem. I was thrilled. I am not in the business of edutainment but
economics need not be a dismal science. There are theoretical and empirical
controversies, puzzles, intriguing questions. I want my students to feel
the excitement. I want even those who will never take another economics
course to know how to argue with an economist.
Arguing with an economist is easier if you speak the language. Robert
Frank of Cornell University has likened teaching economics to teaching
a foreign language. To learn it well, one must use it often. In my classes,
students have a variety of opportunities to practice speaking economics.
After a walking tour of downtown L.A., for instance, students in my Urban
Economics class analyze location choices, exploring questions like:
Why was a seniors apartment complex built on Bunker Hill in the
heart of L.A.? Through such exercises, students master economics as they
could never do by answering end-of-the-chapter problems in a book. It
is like the difference between listening to French dialogue in a language
lab and wandering the streets of Lyon.
With some students, however, the challenge is not convincing them that
economics is fun, but convincing them that it applies to their lives.
Following a local police shooting of an African American man, for example,
one of my African American advisees missed several classes, including
Economic Statistics. Asked to explain, he said, It just doesnt
seem important to the struggle. We talked about racial profiling.
I handed him a working paper by two economists on whether the New Jersey
State Police engaged in racial profiling and said, To read this
paper, you will need to understand statistics. He returned to class.
I later hired him to help me analyze the impact of Social Security reform
on African Americans, and our results were presented in a pre-election
press conference on C-SPAN. I may have finally persuaded him that working
for racial equality and studying economics are compatible. This spring
he returned from a semester in Brazil and proudly handed me a research
paper on black-owned businesses in San Salvador.
In class, I mix traditional chalk-and-talk with experiments, skits and
in-class debates. In one experiment, I use masking tape to outline a lake
in the center of the room and scatter dimes to represent fish. I instruct
my volunteer fishers that there are two rounds: Fish are worth a dime
in the first, a quarter in the second. For the first minute or so, the
fishers are motionless, but then one lunges and the rest follow. By the
second round, no fish are left. Then I carve the lake into parcels and
assign each fisher the right to fish in a specific parcel. When I scatter
the fish, I leave some parcels barren. The affected fishers complain loudly.
Some even resort to theft, but fish survive to the second round. Students
see that the problem of overfishing is solved, but at a cost. This opens
the door to a discussion of equity versus efficiency and of alternative
solutions to the problem.
As much as possible, I use concrete experiences to explain abstract concepts.
In Race and the U.S. Economy, for instance, I use family history
to discuss trends in the economic status of minority women. Using photos
of my mother, my grandmother and myself, I compare our biographies as
workers to broad statistical trends. I use such personal stories not only
to make the ideas less intimidating, but also to make students feel comfortable
with me as an African American woman. Such comfort is especially important
in Race and the U.S. Economy, where the majority of students are
white, where we discuss politically and emotionally volatile subjects,
and where my presence as an authority figure could easily have a chilling
effect on discussion.
Once after several lectures outlining theories of racial inequality, we
had an in-class debate on the topic: Resolved, there is no racial discrimination
in U.S. labor markets. Students were randomly assigned to the two sides.
My job was that of a neutral mediator and research consultant to both
sides. In such debates, I enforce one requirement on everyone: Back up
each statement with empirical evidence. If you cant, then acknowledge
it is a stereotype. In other words, I emphasize the importance of subjecting
all theories, even personal ones, to empirical test.
I subject my own theories of pedagogy to empirical test by talking with
graduates. Sometimes the link between coursework and postgraduate life
is obvious. (One alum still e-mails me with regression analysis questions.)
In other cases, it is subtle. Another former student reports that she
cant think about globalization or repealing the estate tax without
thinking about tradeoffs between economic efficiency and other social
The only thing that would please me more is if she admitted it was fun.
Photo by Phil Channing