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MSU economist named a top woman in business
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Becky Smith, director of the Mississippi State University Extension Center for Economic Education and Financial Literacy, has been an advocate for education since childhood.
“My grandfather told me, ‘Nobody can take education away from you,’ so I was determined to go as far as I could with my education,” Smith said.
Now Smith works to empower Mississippians through economics education. Based on her significant impact on teachers, students and businesses, the Mississippi Business Journal named her one of Mississippi’s 50 leading businesswomen and honored her at a luncheon Feb. 27.
“Unlike many of the businesswomen honored, I don’t run a multi-million dollar firm or take home profits, but my work makes it possible for others to pursue their dreams,” Smith said.
Political science was her original major in college because she wanted to write public policy that improved the quality of people’s lives. But she discovered she loved the disciplined, critical thinking involved in economics.
“Economics is about improving the standard of living. It teaches how to consider the impacts of different policies on the welfare of society as a whole,” she said. “I get to help improve decision-making processes for individuals, households, firms, communities, states, nations and the world. That is the real power of economics.”
As an Extension professor, Smith spends the bulk of her time working with teachers, college students, agritourism operators and community leaders. She is the only person in the South trained to facilitate the International Economics Summit, a role-playing event for high school students that involves research into global issues, economics and trade.
“I keep up with the latest innovations and best practices in education, including the Common Core State Standards, so I can help teachers understand how to think about complex issues and we can learn together how to improve economics education,” she said. “I want to do whatever it takes to get kids hooked into learning economics without really knowing they’re learning economics.”
Her goal is to show students they can experience positive changes based on a better understanding of economies at all levels: personal, local and global.
“What inspires me to work hard is seeing students realize they can change their path forward, even if they’ve come from a situation where they don’t feel there is a lot of hope for the future and they’re not motivated in the classroom,” she said. “I want to help students have more leadership and self-determination in their lives.”
Smith has spearheaded the Maroon Money Management program to teach college students about finances, covering topics such as decision-making and how to minimize student loan debt.
But she is particularly enthusiastic about community and economic development. She leads the Mississippi Agritourism Steering Committee, which includes numerous public service agencies.
“Agritourism is a growing industry because today’s consumers want transformational experiences that reconnect them to place and history,” she said. “Enterprising farmers can offer connections to other ways of life and educational experiences that benefit their customers while generating revenue for the local economy.”
Steve Turner, head of the MSU Department of Agricultural Economics, summed up Smith in one word: dynamic.
“She exudes enthusiasm and is an evangelist for economics,” Turner said. “I am convinced that having an economic understanding of business, communities, markets, the state, the nation and the world is crucial to better citizenship. Dr. Smith is doing her part to ensure this foundational learning begins as early as possible in students’ lives.”
Turner said Smith’s work with teachers has a significant long-term impact because each teacher she trains impacts multiple students, and some of those students become teachers.
“Dr. Smith can make economic principles exciting to students and teachers and can guide them through the trees so they can see the forest,” he said. “She is making a difference in the goal to reduce economic illiteracy in the state of Mississippi.”
For information about MSU’s Department of Agricultural Economics, go to http://www.agecon.msstate.edu/.
Information about the Mississippi Business Journal’s 50 leading businesswomen program can be found at http://msbusiness.com/events/50-leading-business-women/.