Some fatherly advice helped prepare economist Kaye Husbands Fealing for a broad variety of challenges. Humphrey Husbands, who taught economics at Montclair State College in New Jersey, told her, “Professors take you seriously if you sit in the front row.”
“So, I sat in the front row, and got it done,” says Husbands Fealing, now Professor and Chair of the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Sitting up front at the University of Pennsylvania probably kept the self-described “math nerd” from seeing in each class just how few women and minorities were pursuing math degrees. But she wanted to use her math skills to make a difference in the world so she earned her Ph.D. in economics from Harvard.
Whether she is working with aerospace developers, the White House science advisor, or organizers of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Husbands Fealing brings innovation and inclusion to a global stage.
She has tackled projects as wide-ranging as NAFTA’s impact on the Mexican and Canadian automotive industries, strategic alliances among aircraft contractors and subcontractors, and improving food safety.
From multinational labor relations issues to keeping food pathogens in check, it’s impossible to know all the intricacies of each field. But this AAAS Fellow says asking the right questions cuts across many economics challenges.
“You learn the material and then you bring alongside people who are experts in the area,” she says. “It is important to say that we are doing our best with our resources; that is what an economist does. But we also want to look at particular outcomes ... how are people affected by these policies?” she explained. “It’s about intersections of different types of thinkers.”
After seeing so few seats filled by women and minorities during her own college years, Husbands Fealing has developed models to measure the impacts of market forces on the access of women and minorities to STEM careers. She’s headed projects to help businesses and universities develop and nurture a more diverse STEM workforce in the United States.
That involves exploring different pathways to STEM careers. Just as the GI Bill brought many military veterans into academia who may have never considered college, she says there should be outreach and assistance to nontraditional students, those at community colleges, and young parents.
She worked with President George W. Bush's science advisor John Marburger III and others to publish The Science of Science Policy, which looks at some of these changing frameworks for innovation, including integrating more social science tools.
“It can’t just be economics. It needs to be comprehensive. To understand some of these problems, we need sociology, political science. We need to understand creativity,” she says.
Husbands Fealing described a concept called “satisficing” (a combination of satisfying and sacrificing) that’s become a business model for companies that must move with sometimes dizzying speed, often with some pieces of the puzzle missing, on a globally competitive stage. She calls it a “comfortable middle.”
“Satisficing, you will see in the business literature, is a little more pragmatic. They’ll say, 'Well, yeah, I’d love to get the maximum. We’re going to do the best we can.' It doesn't mean you’re going to take a lot less. It just means you may not actually be able to achieve what someone was able to calculate on the back of an envelope as ‘the maximum,’” she says.
Husbands Fealing was recently elected to the Board of Directors of AAAS, where she says she’s looking forward to adding her social science and economics insight to work with other scientists and scholars on science policy issues.
“It is important to really have our citizens more involved in science, and have more of an understanding of what science is; that it is not for the elite. It is understanding everyday life; not just economics but natural, physical, and biological sciences," she says. "It’s really about understanding who we are on this planet and beyond."
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