Jen Raynor ’05 Ph.D. can’t remember a time when she didn’t love being outside immersed in nature.
“I was born a naturalist and have always spent most of my free time outdoors,” said Raynor. “As a child, I loved finding and observing insects, frogs, snakes, and really any animal that let me get close.”
Little did she know that her lifelong passion would translate into a career as a natural resource economist. “I didn't realize that I could make a career in thinking about animals until around 2010 when I read a white paper about the rapid decline in bluefin tuna caused by overfishing. It was a eureka moment for me, where I realized that economics isn't just the source of many environmental problems - it is also the solution!”
Raynor, an assistant professor in the Department of Economics and the College of the Environment at Wesleyan University, recently returned to the Heights to speak on the topic “Reversing Local Extinctions: The Economic Impacts of Reintroducing Wolves in North America.” Recently she spoke on the topic on the Freakonomics Radio podcast.
After graduating summa cum laude with a B.A. in economics at Le Moyne, Raynor went on to earn an M.A. in applied economics at Johns Hopkins University, followed by an M.S. in environment and resources and Ph.D. in agricultural and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison). Before moving to academia, she worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where she conducted research on U.S. fisheries management.
“Many people forget that humans are animals too,” she said. “Like other animals, we rely on a healthy, functioning ecosystem for our survival. Fish and wildlife are not only important sources of food for us, they also play important roles in maintaining the natural systems we depend on. With the current trajectory of habitat loss and global climate change, we could lose one-third of all species on Earth by the end of this century. This biodiversity crisis will have a profound effect on humans.
Raynor arrived at Le Moyne in 2001 for her undergraduate studies. She chose to major in economics after taking Le Moyne Economics Professor Dixie Blackley's principles of microeconomics class, which was a required course for a different major. She recalls that “Economic theory provided an intuitive and powerful framework for me to understand the world and why people make the choices they do.”
She said that Blackley and fellow Professor Wayne Grove have been her mentors and champions for more than 20 years, helping her through her undergraduate studies, honors thesis, and first job search. “They have both been willing to provide me with advice and support at every career stage since. As a first-generation student, I had a lot to learn. I can't emphasize enough how critical this mentorship was to put me on a successful career path.”
“When she returned from a service-learning Honors trip to Guatemala,” Grove recalls, “she'd felt so welcomed by people whose lives seemed so unnecessarily challenging, poor and without clear public policy and individual pathways for improvement. Jen wanted answers, solutions, actions.”
Women continue to be underrepresented in the field of economics, and remain a minority at every career stage within academia. In 2021 new doctorates were 32.8% female, falling to 32.6% for assistant professors, to 28.1% for tenured associate professors, and 15.5% for full professors.
Grove speaks with pride when talking about her perseverance and career trajectory. “Getting a doctorate in economics requires fabulous quantitative/math/stats skills, deep engagement in existing research, and the curiosity and strength to identify important questions and to answer them. Few students ever start on that journey and most don't make it. Jen had the guts and smarts and the burning curiosity to better understand the world and to make a difference.”
A faculty member at Wesleyan University since 2019, this fall she will return to UW-Madison as an assistant professor of natural resource economics in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology. She has this advice for those who want to follow in her footsteps: “I would strongly encourage any student who is interested in an analytical/data-focused career to major in economics. The skills students build in critical thinking, writing, and data analysis are valuable across a huge number of sectors and occupations.”
In photo above, Jen Raynor and Wayne Grove take a moment prior to her recent talk on campus.