Economics faculty awarded National Science Foundation grant to explore gender, racial representation

Headshots of Caroline Krafft (left) and Kristine West (right)

Associate professor Caroline Krafft, PhD (left) and Endowed Chair in the Sciences Kristine West, PhD (right). Photos By Rebecca Studios / Rebecca Zenefski Slater ’10.

According to data provided by the American Economic Association, underrepresentation of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and women in economics is even more pronounced than in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). A grant-winning project by St. Catherine University faculty in the Economics and Political Science Department will examine ways to remedy this.

Associate professor Caroline Krafft, PhD, and Endowed Professor in the Sciences Kristine West, PhD, have received a $289,038 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Build and Broaden Program. Their project focuses on the impact of institutional diversity on minority and women students studying economics and will run from January 2022 through December 2024. Krafft and West will collaborate with Metropolitan State University, who received a portion of the total grant.

“As a University with values deeply rooted in the pursuit of social and racial justice, and as home to the Minnesota Center for Diversity in Economics, it’s fitting that this research takes place at St. Kate’s,” said Tarshia L. Stanley, PhD, Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Sciences. “This NSF grant will provide crucial support to the essential work our amazing faculty, staff, and students are already undertaking to create more robust pathways for BIPOC women to explore their gifts and talents in fields like economics.”

The project will build on honors thesis research conducted by Adriana Cortes Mendosa ’21, who will be returning as grant program coordinator as part of her role at the Minnesota Center for Diversity in Economics. The St. Kate’s and Metro State team will survey college economics students and faculty at 18 institutions over the course of two years. The researchers will study the survey results to analyze how the presence — or lack — of diversity and representation in economics courses can either encourage — or discourage — women and BIPOC students to continue pursuing the field.

“There’s been a fair amount of research about the pipelines from undergrad to grad school, and why there aren’t more women, especially women of color, going on to get PhDs,” noted West. “There has not been enough attention on the part of the pipeline that we’re focusing on: introductory economics classrooms. We’re trying to fill that void.”

Women of color and white women may be discouraged by teachers and pop culture from pursuing economics, and/or left with the impression that the field is ‘just about the stock market.’

Barbara Salinas '20 (left) and Adriana Cortes Mendosa present their research.

Barbara Salinas ’20 (left) and Adriana Cortes Mendosa ’21 (right) present undergraduate research, which fed into Cortes Mendosa's honors thesis and subsequently the National Science Foundation grant.

“Many people who are underrepresented in economics come to it once they realize that it’s really more about policy, social issues, environmental economics, wealth inequality,” said West. “Our hypothesis is that if people find their way into an economics class where they actually see themselves, they see the issues, they feel like they belong, and they feel like they can have that growth mindset — ‘Maybe I’m not a math person yet, but I will be’ — that’s the kind of culture you need to create if you’re going to support women and underrepresented minorities to go on and go further in the field.”


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