BY Gail Fagan
Dr. Marie Mora’s passion for issues related to Hispanic educational attainment and quality began when she was a teenager growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“I noticed that not all public schools were the same, despite being part of the same district. The more affluent neighborhoods tended to have the higher quality schools … and relatively fewer Hispanic students,” said Mora, professor of economics at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. “I saw how this led to a racial/ethnic divide in the quality of public schools … and to me, it wasn’t right.”
This year, her lifelong efforts to ensure better educational attainment for Hispanics and diversity within her economics profession will be recognized nationally, selecting her as the recipient of the 2016 Outstanding Support of Hispanic Issues in Higher Education Award from the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE).
“AAHHE is proud to bestow this award to Marie T. Mora – a passionate leader who champions initiatives that address key educational policies and issues,” said AAHHE President Dr. Loui Olivas in an AAHHE release that announced the award.
Mora, who also serves as UTRGV’s associate vice provost for Faculty Diversity, will receive the award during AAHHE’s 11th annual national conference, March 10-12 in Costa Mesa, Calif.
The award is given to an individual in the community who has demonstrated outstanding accomplishment and support of Hispanic issues and made significant contributions to the Latino higher education community.
“Dr. Mora is an extraordinary leader who demonstrates a strong commitment to her students, community and profession,” said Dr. Salvador Contreras, UTRGV associate professor of economics and director of the Center for Border Economics Studies.
“She is defined by an unwavering need for action in the face of disparities, roadblocks and lack of equity,” said Contreras, who was one of Mora’s nominators for the award.
Mora, a 10-year faculty member at UTRGV and its legacy institution, UT Pan American, is nationally recognized for her research on Hispanic socioeconomic outcomes. She has shared her expertise across the country, including with the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and the U.S. Department of Labor. She is a current member of the Data Users Advisory Committee of the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A longtime president and board member of the American Society of Hispanic Economists (ASHE), she prioritized issues affecting the pipeline and representation of Hispanic economists. Under her leadership, ASHE received official recognition from the American Economic Association (AEA), the premier organization of professional economists. The recognition ensured a high profile venue at its national conference to present ASHE member research and raise the visibility of Hispanic economists.
Currently, Hispanics represent less than 3 percent of all full-time economic professors who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents nationwide, and only 1.6 percent of full professors of economics.
“The long-term impact of my efforts will hopefully be to have more Hispanics and other underrepresented groups participate in the profession, including in key policy-making positions,” Mora said. “A lot of research and policy decisions are being made without the input of people from diverse backgrounds, so information is being lost.”
Mora currently directs AEA’s Mentoring Program, a national initiative funded by a nearly $500,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that matches graduate students from underrepresented groups with mentors to guide them through the critical junctures of the graduate program and early stages of their post-graduate career.
Mora also has sought to increase the number of women in her profession and in higher education leadership positions.
At UTRGV, Mora co-founded the Women’s Faculty Network and is part of the leadership team for the university’s NSF-funded ADVANCE Program, designed to advance women faculty in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Other recent recognitions include the 2015 Cesar Estrada Chavez Award from the American Association for Access, Equity and Diversity, and the 2015 Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Department of Economics at the University of New Mexico, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics. She earned her Ph.D. in economics from Texas A&M University.
In its ninth year, AAHHE is a national, nonprofit and cross-disciplinary higher education organization primarily focused on the need to develop Latino/a faculty and senior administrators, as well as serving as a leading research and advocacy group for Hispanic higher education issues. AAHHE upholds the beliefs that higher education should address the needs of Hispanics and can be more effective in meeting the needs of a changing U.S. demography.