Wednesday, August 11, 2021

CWAE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Awards: Dr. Lurleen Walters, Dr. Leah Palm-Forster, and Dr. Jamille Palacios Rivera

This year CWAE launched new awards to recognize and celebrate individuals who have actively worked to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the applied economics profession. Full eligibility criteria can be found here. We had two award categories, a senior award (10 or more years work experience after highest degree) and a junior award (less than 10 years of work experience after highest degree). We are proud to recognize Dr. Lurleen Walters, Dr. Leah Palm-Forster, and Dr. Jamille Palacios Rivera as the inaugural recipients of this award. Recipients will be recognized at the CWAE/COSBAE 40th Anniversary Celebration (Sunday, August 1, 2:30-6 PM CT) and the annual CWAE/COSBAE luncheon (Monday, August 2, 11:30 AM-1 PM CT) at the AAEA Annual Meeting. Please join us to celebrate their accomplishments.

As this is a new award, we would also like to share our process over the last 6 months. The inaugural CWAE Awards committee (co-led by Dr. Zoë Plakias and Dr. Valentina Hartarska, with members Dr. Anaka Aiyar, Dr. Kelly Grogan, and Dr. Kate Schneider) developed the call for nominations and a robust evaluation process for nominees and has developed procedures moving forward to address any points of confusion or lack of clarity discovered in this initial year’s process.

Ultimately, the committee decided to award one senior award and two junior awards in this inaugural year. Please read the profiles below, written by our committee members with quotes taken with permission from nominating materials, to read about the outstanding work of this year’s inaugural award recipients. The committee was impressed with the awardees’ sustained and intentional commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, particularly relative to the expectations of their positions and their levels of institutional power. Please join us in congratulating these exceptional members of our profession.


Dr. Lurleen Walters

Recipient of the 2021 CWAE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award (Senior Level)

Dr. Lurleen Walters is an applied economist and courtesy faculty with the Food and Resource Economics Department at the University of Florida. Dr. Walters has extensively demonstrated her commitment to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at various levels within our profession, with her nominators repeatedly speaking to her instrumental role in our profession’s progress related to DEI and her importance as a champion of DEI efforts across multiple professional organizations.

During her time as a faculty member at Florida A&M University (an 1890 land grant), she served as faculty advisor for the university’s Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANNRS) chapter, comprising mostly first-generation minority students. Under her leadership, they won the National Chapter of the Year Award in 2012-13 amidst a highly competitive field. Given the pipeline issues in applied economics, this type of undergraduate mentoring is crucial to improving diversity within our field.

From 2015-2020, Dr. Walters held various leadership roles within the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA), including successive terms as chair and section leader of the Committee on Women in Agricultural Economics (CWAE) and the Committee on the Opportunities and Status of Blacks in Agricultural Economics (COSBAE), respectively. In an approach described by her nominators as “strategic bricklaying” she made significant contributions to improve DEI in the AAEA. She developed COSBAE’s 2018 preconference workshop, “Towards Engagement and Collaboration of 1890, 1862, Federal and Private Sector Institutions: A Win-Win for the Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness Professions, “which focused on increasing engagement between academia, government and industry to increase professional opportunities and help build a more diverse profession.” She was a member of the 2018 AAEA Anti-Harassment Task Force, that wrote the Association’s Anti-Harassment and Code of Conduct Policy. As a critical liaison between CWAE and COSBAE, Dr. Walters helped spearhead the CWAE-COSBAE AAEA Climate Survey that is assessing the DEI metrics in academic spaces in the agricultural economics profession. She has also played an integral role in establishing on-site childcare at the AAEA Annual Meetings (which will be implemented beginning in 2022).  

In 2019, Dr. Walters led the effort to establish the COSBAE-CWAE Mentoring Initiative. The program aims to increase engagement between land grant institutions, government and industry to facilitate exchange of ideas on teaching, research and extension, while increasing professional opportunities for mentees. It was recently expanded to include an undergraduate component. Dr. Walters was also instrumental in the creation of two Special Section Awards in COSBAE, the Alfred L. Parks Early Career Award and the COSBAE Legacy Award. These awards recognize early and later career professionals who have made substantial contributions to the applied economics profession. In 2020, Dr. Walters served on a team of current and past COSBAE leaders who were invited to advise on expanding the mission and research scope for the American Journal of Agricultural Economics (AJAE) to include topics on discrimination and inequities in agriculture. The group successfully advocated for greater inclusivity in the scope of AAEA journals to address topics on race, gender, discrimination and inequities in agriculture.

In addition to the AAEA, Dr. Walters has served in leadership with the Food Distribution Research Society (FDRS) since 2015.  In successive roles as Vice President of Student Programs and Vice President of Research, she has helped create more diverse and inclusive programming initiatives, and was a key contributor to the Society’s diversity, equity and inclusion policy.

In the words of Dr. Keithly Jones, “Dr. Walters has exhibited, and continues to exhibit intense and sustained efforts to making the profession a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment. What is most striking is that she accomplished this much as an assistant professor and applied economist with barely a decade of experience, and that she has continued to do so despite significant challenges. Having worked alongside her in COSBAE and witnessed her commitment and actions directly, this is testament to her deep belief in diversity, equity and inclusion as core values that can help to effect meaningful change in our profession and improve the professional welfare of many.”

Dr. Leah Palm-Forster

Recipient of the 2021 CWAE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award (Junior Level)

Dr. Leah H. Palm-Forster is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Delaware. Dr. Palm-Forster joined Department of Applied Economics and Statistics at the University of Delaware in 2015 after she finished her PhD from Michigan State University. Her commitment to promoting Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) stemmed from her long-standing interest to promote the engagement of women scholars in the study of applied economics.

Promoting DEI requires commitment towards mentoring individuals with different backgrounds to access opportunities for growth. It also requires programs and policies that support participation in such opportunities. Creating safe environments to support discourse & debate sparks new ideas and increases engagement, thus promoting DEI. Dr. Palm-Forster’s work personifies in promoting DEI these ideas.

At the University of Delaware, she founded the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics Mentorship Program which provides students with the opportunity to receive one-on-one mentorship from researchers. She has also initiated a professional development course that helps students with different backgrounds strengthen their networks & develop professional skills required for the job market. Additionally, she has mentored students in the Borel Global Fellows Program, which support scholars from East Africa to complete undergraduate and graduate studies in the United States. As Dr. Simanti Bannerjee shares from visiting at the University of Delaware, Dr. Palm-Forster’s students’ “unequivocally expressed their admiration for the intellectually stimulating and inclusive work and study environment she has created for them.”

Among Dr. Palm-Forster’s contributions to promoting DEI in the profession more broadly is her work with CWAE and the Northeastern Agricultural and Resource Economics Association (NAREA). Dr. Palm-Forster has been a core member of a task force that led to the adoption of the AAEA Sexual Harassment Code of Conduct. As Dr. Simanti Banerjee shared, “She has been instrumental in bringing the attention of past AAEA President Dr. Scott Swinton to the issue of harassment faced by mainly female members of our profession, which eventually led to the creation of a task force and adoption of the AAEA Sexual Harassment Code of Conduct which is now featured on the AAEA website and every single AAEA email communication to its members.” Dr. Palm-Forster is a past chair of CWAE and has been a part of the leadership team which advocated for and introduced childcare facilities in the AAEA annual meetings. This initiative was undertaken after CWAE members shared concerns that the lack of child-care facilities impeded their ability to participate in such meetings. Dr. Palm-Forster has started a professional development session at the AAEA meetings called “Strategies for Writing Productivity and Publishing Success.” The goal was to support the writing success for early career researchers. She has spearheaded efforts to create & fund awards for students to travel to and participate in the AAEA annual meetings. Dr. Simanti Banerjee summarizes how Dr. Palm-Forster’s efforts promote DEI in the discipline “These activities demonstrate Leah’s commitment to ensuring a safe and secure, and supportive professional environment for the women in our profession within which they can have the access to resources which will help them flourish.”

As a member of the Diversity & Inclusion Committee at the NAREA, Dr. Palm-Forster has been instrumental in institutionalizing NAREA’s Statement of Commitment to Inclusion and the NAREA Events Code of Conduct. She has supported the development of the first NAREA Award for the Promotion of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and a new keynote address—the NAREA Rising Star Keynote Speaker Series—was implemented under her leadership. The series aims to promote and showcase exceptional junior scholars from diverse backgrounds. To provide support to scholars who were feeling isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic, she also started NAREA’s Scholars’ Circles. In these groups, scholars could meet virtually to exchange ideas and network with each other. As the Co-Director of Northeastern NAREA’s Career Advancement and Mentorship Program, Dr. Palm-Forster plans to continue making contributions towards promoting DEI. This program will support recent PhD graduates in applied economics by matching them with mentors who can offer professional advice and support. Dr. Palm-Forster’s commitment to increasing DEI is reflected in the words of Dr. Sarah Jacobson, a fellow member of the NAREA leadership team, “Her planned leadership of the NAREA mentorship program shows that she has chosen to prioritize the lifting-up of newer scholars from diverse backgrounds as she moves forward in her career.”

Dr. Jamille Palacios Rivera

Recipient of the 2021 CWAE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award (Junior Level)

Dr. Jamille Palacios Rivera is a Teaching Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Missouri. Her fierce commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is evident in all areas of her work.

Dr. Palacios Rivera’s research for her Master’s (at the University of Puerto Rico) and her Ph.D. (at the University of Florida) were focused on issues of labor and discrimination related to race and gender. Her Master’s thesis was entitled, “Study of Applicable Alternatives to Eliminate Marriage Penalty Tax in Puerto Rico” and explored policy levers to address gender discrimination baked into Puerto Rico’s tax code. Her dissertation work at the University of Florida focused on farm labor, with a particular focus on the Fair Food Campaign established by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to fight for better wages and working conditions for people employed picking fruit and vegetable on farms in the Southeast U.S. (and increasingly farther afield within the U.S.)

While working at Ivy Tech Community College and simultaneously finishing her Ph.D., Dr. Palacios Rivera served as the Ivy Tech Campus Director for the NSF-funded Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation summer research program. As part of this program, she recruited minority students, paired faculty mentors with mentees, coordinated a research trip to Mexico with participants, organized workshops and served as a mentor herself.

Dr. Palacio Rivera’s integrated research, teaching, outreach, and service related to diversity, equity, and inclusion has continued at the University of Missouri, where she is a Faculty Fellow of the Cambio Center. Dr. Corinne Valdivia writes, “Cambio is a collaborative research and outreach center of faculty and students with a mission to address integration of newcomers, minorities, and Latinxs communities… Dr. Palacios has contributed in multiple ways, as an active fellow welcoming faculty and students to campus, serving as a leader in committees, contributing to the planning and actively participating in Cambio de Colores, an annual conference and community of practice focused on research and best practices for the integration and wellbeing of Latinxs, immigrants, and rural communities in the Midwest.” Dr. Palacios Rivera is also contributing to the development of a new Cambio Center Latinx Studies program and contributes to the center’s Latino Agricultural Entrepreneurship in Missouri initiative through her research.

In addition to this work, Dr. Palacios Rivera has been and continues to be a leader in DEI efforts at all levels at the University of Missouri. Dr. Joe Parcell writes, “Dr. Jamille Palacios Rivera has been instrumental in reshaping the Division of Applied Social Sciences, as well as CAFNR and Mizzou, to be a more holistically inclusive environment.” She chaired and continues to serve on the campus level Council for Inclusive Excellence at the invitation of the Chancellor, advocating for equitable access for students. with disabilities and students, faculty and staff members who are members of underrepresented minorities and advising the university Chancellor on the implementation of the Inclusive Excellence Framework. Dr. Palacios Rivera also serves as an Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity (IDE) liaison for the university’s Office of the Vice Chancellor for Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity supporting implementation of the Inclusive Excellence framework in the Division of Applied Social Science (DASS) and the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (CAFNR) in which it is housed. As part of the DASS Online Transition Task Force during the COVID-19 pandemic, she advised faculty and provided resources to make their online courses more inclusive, work she had done in her own courses prior to the pandemic. She is also a founding member of the first CAFNR IDE committee, which received funding from the university to conduct focus groups CAFNR students and used this focus group data to inform a set of recommendations for CAFNR administrators to make the college more welcoming and inclusive for students of color.

Dr. Corinne Valdivia writes: “Dr. Palacios has a commitment to make a difference in inclusion, diversity and equity, through her teaching of students at MU, and seeking to further impact institutional change through her work at multiple levels at MU. In today’s challenging climate the work of Dr Palacios, her service in critical committees, and her teaching and mentoring of students and colleagues, are essential to effective inclusion.”

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