Cecilia Rouse, a well-known labor economist, says she was drawn to economics because it is a discipline in which she can really address social problems.
From her time as a White House adviser to her role today as dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, economic policy has been the avenue through which Rouse has worked to make a difference.
"My time working for President Obama as a member of his Council of Economic Advisers — from the beginning of his presidency in 2009 through his first two years — was a thrilling time, but also a terrifying one as we saw the economy just skittering," Rouse says. "I worked to help develop a set of policies in a number of areas, including finding ways to make it more attractive for employers to hire workers and finding ways for workers to invest in themselves to make them more productive."
Rouse's work during the Great Recession was not the first time her economic expertise was tapped by leaders in Washington, D.C. She also worked in the White House at the National Economic Council from 1998 to 1999. (Princeton professors are often considered thought-leaders on national and international policy issues, and may take short-term public service leaves from the University to fulfill important government posts.)
Having joined Princeton's faculty in 1992 after earning a doctoral degree in economics at Harvard University, Rouse says her service in federal government gave her an appreciation of the importance of translating research for policymakers and wider audiences. It's something she still practices as a senior editor of The Future of Children, a policy journal published by the Wilson School and the Brookings Institution.
Rouse's public service work also was a gratifying way to apply her academic scholarship to federal policy. For example, her research showing a sizeable percentage of community college students do not finish their first year was used as a basis for proposals to support postsecondary institutions and increase focus on college completion.
This is exactly the type of experience that Rouse wants students to have at the Wilson School. She says the school's undergraduate major sets Princeton apart from other policy schools, which typically offer only graduate programs. Princeton’s multidisciplinary, liberal arts major is designed for students who are passionate about public policy.
Students at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs are taught to think about policy questions from multiple perspectives, whether it is history, political science, economics or psychology. The faculty includes engineers, legal scholars, sociologists and more, as well as practitioners such as former government officials and diplomats who bring real-world experience to Princeton's classrooms.
A highlight of the Wilson School major is the policy task force, where students spend a semester tackling a current domestic or international policy challenge. A faculty member with expertise in the topic area leads the course, and students often conclude their work by presenting recommendations to the policymakers directly involved with an issue, such as meeting with staff at the U.S. Department of State or Health and Human Services.
“Wilson School undergraduate students leave here with an understanding of the complexity of public policy and an appreciation of public service," Rouse says. “Their view of the world is enhanced by their time here.”