From the Department Head: Spring 2020

Earlier this month, I was in San Diego interviewing candidates for our open position in environmental and natural resource economics, when I opened my email to learn that two of our alumni were named Fellows by the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, the association’s most prestigious honor.  This summer, we will gather in Kansas City to celebrate their induction as Fellows.

Shenggen Fan earned his PhD under the supervision of Vernon Ruttan in 1989 and has had a productive career at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).  In reflecting on his career in a recent piece in Global Food Security,* he writes that he was born just after China’s Great Famine of 1959-61 and subsisted on a diet made up primarily of rice.  At 15, he learned that he was malnourished but “did not recognize malnutrition when we saw it, because to us it looked normal. We were all malnourished.” Fan’s career has focused on policies to ensure food and nutrition security, recognizing that adequate calorie intake (e.g., with a rice-only diet) is not enough to solve problems of malnutrition.  We recognized Fan’s achievements with the department’s Outstanding Alumni Award in 2006.  It is fitting that the AAEA recognizes his lifetime of commitment to, in his words, “achieve a world where hunger and malnutrition are only a memory.”

Scott Swinton earned his PhD under the supervision of Rob King in 1991 and pursued his academic career at Michigan State University.  In 2019, he was named University Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University and received our department’s Outstanding Alumni Award.  Swinton’s research focuses on how to create better-performing agricultural systems through managing as an ecosystem.  In a recent interview, Scott says “I like to work on research that makes a difference. That’s the fundamental idea in the land grant system, that we’re not just kind of doing research and education because it’s interesting, but we’re doing it because it helps improve people’s lives.” Swinton’s contributions extend to the profession as a whole through his leadership of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association and AgEcon Search. 

Fan and Swinton join University of Minnesota alumni Klaus Deininger, Bob Evenson, Ray Goldberg, Jim Houck, Helen Jensen, Harry Kaiser, Alex McCalla, Robert Myers, George Norton, Phil Pardey, Rich Sexton, Bud Stanton, and Bill Tomek as Fellows of the AAEA.  Faculty members Vernon Eidman, Rob King, Jean Kinsey, Phil Pardey and Ben Senauer are also AAEA Fellows.

We celebrate Shenggen Fan’s and Scott Swinton’s careers as we remember the strong history of the department.  We look forward to identifying a new faculty member to join us in 2020 and to a bright future ahead.



*Shenggen Fan, Some lessons from a life in food policy, Global Food Security, Volume 22, September 2019, Pages 33-36.