The Economics of Paying It Forward

Retired Professor Makes an Investment in Students That Will Keep on Giving

Joan Anderson

Joan Anderson, a former professor at USD, is giving back with scholarships to support first-generation college students.

Joan Anderson, PhD, came to the University of San Diego as one of the first economics professors in the School of Business in 1981. Olin Hall had not yet been built and there were only 17 employees in the School of Business, which would become one of the university's fastest growing schools.

She taught quantitative and statistics courses, was active on the social issues committee and in the Trans-Border Institute, and specialized in the economic development of Latin America and applied econometrics.

"In the School of Business, everyone knew everyone, but we were growing fast," recalls Joan of her early days at USD, when the school was located in the area that is now home to the Degheri Alumni Center. "When we built Olin Hall we had room for 50 faculty offices and we thought it was ample space. But the business school was growing—and at one point half of the undergraduate students were majoring in business."

The esteemed professor retired in 2009, after nearly three decades at the University of San Diego. Even in retirement, however, she's still making a difference to students. Her most recent contribution was to establish a new scholarship for first-generation students because, above all else, she believes in the power of education.

"One of the best investments the United States ever made was the GI Bill," says Joan, of the bill that was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944, to provide veterans funds for college education, as well as unemployment insurance and housing. "Because of the GI Bill tons of people who had never before been to school went to college. A lot of my students had parents who were educated as part of that program."

A true economics professor, she explains that education is a way out of poverty and says that it starts a chain that allows graduates to thrive much better economically. Today, she explains, education is getting more and more expensive and there are fewer state funds to help subsidize the cost. Scholarships, such as hers, are even more vital.

"I wanted to do something that would live on," Joan says. "With my scholarship, I'm giving preference to first-generation students and students who have gone through the Reality Changers program or the Barrio Logan College Institute. For some of those students, education may seem as though it's beyond their horizon or beyond their family's horizon. But education can truly change their reality. And I hope my scholarship can help make that happen."

Joan was the second chair of the social issues committee, which was established in 1985, and was an early advocate of what became USD's Service-Learning program, led by Judy Rauner who was known as a pioneer in that field. Together, she and Judy wrote the application for a grant to launch the university's first Social Issues Conference in 1990, featuring keynote speaker Jonathan Kozol, a writer, educator and activist known for championing issues of educational inequality and racial justice.

Joan incorporated service-learning into her courses whenever and wherever she could. She had students take polls. In her courses about income, poverty and equality, she had students volunteer at the Salvation Army's women's shelter so they could hear the stories of the struggles many women faced as single mothers. She even took the students to the U.S.-Mexico border.

"For my Latin American development class, we would drive to Tijuana to take a firsthand look at some of the things we were talking about in class," Joan says. "Students worked in after-school tutoring programs and at places like Casa de Migrantes. One student got so involved that she got USD's computer department to donate its older computers to these programs."

Her lessons, both in the classrooms and out in the world, were about how to break bad cycles and how to keep those that are good in motion.

"I've always felt a real pull to reach out," she says. "Part of that comes from my faith and the knowledge that we're put here on this earth to help. I've been given a lot and always knew I need to help a lot. Hopefully the students who benefit will do the same."

If you want to make an impact at USD, like Joan did, please contact Erin Jones at (619) 260-4523 or

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