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Leah Palm-Forster (2021)

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.”