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Miami appoints first female economics chair 

<p>Melissa Thomasson is looking forward to leading new initiatives as the first female chair of the economics department.</p>

Melissa Thomasson is looking forward to leading new initiatives as the first female chair of the economics department.

When Melissa Thomasson first entered the field of economics, it never occurred to her that this was a path other women might not pursue.. Now, years down the line, she’s come to know a thing or two about the male-dominated field.

“It’s sad that it's such a long time coming,” she said about becoming the first female chair of the Miami University Economics Department. 

“She is a highly regarded scholar in the field, an excellent instructor and mentor and a strong chair,” said Mike Curme, associate professor of economics.

Curme said it’s unfortunate that Thomasson’s administrative work takes up time she used to spend in the classroom, but said the time is “offset by the positive impact of her work for the department and the university.”

Before making history here, Thomasson began her career at a small liberal arts college in Tacoma, Washington, called the University of Puget Sound. There, she remembers being one of two women in classes of only seven students. 

“Everyone talked about that picture of Nancy Pelosi in the cabinet where she’s the only woman, and I think I know what that feels like,” Thomasson said. 

“I’ve gotten used to it,” she added.  

Four years in rainy Washington and a strong economic history program then took Thomasson to the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she completed both a masters degree and a doctorate in Economics. 

In 1998, Thomasson found her way to Miami, becoming an assistant professor until 2015, when she became a full professor and graduate director. When Thomasson first arrived at Miami, she was only one of two female faculty in the Economics Department: herself along with Barnali Gupta.

As the first full female professor in the department of economics, Gupta said she is excited to have Thomasson in the chair position. 

“Having role models is important,” Gupta added, “as we graduate leaders from FSB.” 

Thomasson now teaches Introduction to Economics, Health Economics and Economic History.

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Thomasson’s research outside of the classroom focuses on health care, studying why we have the system we have and how it develops over time. In September 2017, Thomasson testified to the U.S. Senate about the current and historical reality of health care. 

Thomasson also has a book under contract with the Chicago Press about the economic development of the American health care system, which is set to be published next spring in various economics journals.

Her advocacy for female representation was also shown in a paper she worked on with two colleagues about medical education reform in the early 20th century and how that adversely impacted the number of female physicians. 

“What I love about this job is the ability to not only have my research make an impact but also influence my students,” she said. 

In 2015, Thomasson, Gupta and Deborah Fletcher launched Women in Economics, a club run by female economics students. Since the creation of the organization, female enrollment in the economics major has increased to 49 percent.  In 2015, the Economics Department at Miami only had a 16 percent female enrollment status, and the national average today sits around 30 percent.

Today, six of the Economics department’s 28 faculty members are female, and 30 percent of Miami’s Economics doctorates are awarded to women.

“[The appointment] is very exciting to me,” said Erica Edwards, a TA for an economics capstone class. “It’s a sign Miami is taking steps to be diverse and encourage female economics students to go out into what is still a predominantly male field.”

Thomasson found out last spring about her promotion and began her new position this academic year. She is looking forward to new initiatives for the department.

“We’re looking at expanding experiential learning opportunities and getting partnerships with firms for in-class opportunities,” Thomasson said. “We’re starting to unbury ourselves through these initiatives.”

This article previously said Thommason became a full-time professor in 2015 and was the first full-time female professor in the Department of Economics. She was working full-time before but became a full professor in 2015.