Faculty Spotlight

October’s Faculty Spotlight with Anna D’Souza

One of the School of Public Affairs’ strengths is its ability to shape and modify its curricula to keep pace with the evolving arena of public affairs. Starting this fall, the Bachelor of Science in Public Affairs program will introduce the first in several planned electives in food policy taught by new faculty member, Associate Professor, Anna D’Souza. D’Souza, who holds a PhD in Economics from UCLA, plans to leverage her background to help undergrad and graduate students analyze government food policy and systems, addressing timely issues such as sustainability, service delivery, and globalization.

October Faculty Spotlight

Associate Professor D’Souza offers details about the program and advice to students planning to pursue careers in food policy:

Q: What classes will you teach at the School of Public Affairs?

A: I will be teaching Economic Analysis of Public Policy (PAF 3102), an undergraduate course that teaches students to use economic concepts and tools to analyze and evaluate public policies and programs, as well as consumer and firm behavior more generally. Starting in Fall 2015, I will be teaching a master’s level course on food policy, which will cover major issues in domestic and international food policy and food systems.

Q: What does the field of food policy involve?

A: Broadly, food policy addresses how governments design and implement policies and programs to provide their populations with (enough) food that is safe, affordable, and nutritious, while taking into account economic, social, political and environmental factors. Topics will include agriculture and food production (including a discussion of organics, local foods, and large-scale production); food manufacturing, retailing and marketing; health, nutrition, food security and hunger; food safety; food labeling; food and the environment; and agricultural trade.

Q: Do you have any advice to share with aspiring students in the field of food policy?

A: I think students should follow their passions – to find an issue or a cause that motivates them intellectually and emotionally. But, passion and interest without knowledge doesn’t get you very far, and so my advice is to build a strong foundation to give substance and credibility to your passions. Learn as much as you can, both inside and outside the classroom. Read broadly on topics that interest you and take advantage of being in NYC by attending events related to your topic of interest or volunteering/interning at an organization that works in your area of interest. NYC has been a national leader in implementing food-related policies, for example, related to trans-fats and calorie labeling. Students could, for example, attend a panel discussion or policy debate at the NYC Food Policy Center based at Hunter.

Q: How do you plan to support your students outside of the classroom?

A: Accessibility is critical for their success and for mine, as their instructor. For students who are falling behind, it is essential to identify problem areas as early as possible. In economics, concepts build on each other throughout the semester, so I want to provide the extra support necessary to help students keep up. And for students who want to go deeper into the material and further into practical applications on the subject matter, I hope to identify additional resources, for example, supplemental readings, that can enhance their learning experience. I can also help them craft action plans for engaging more deeply in the material through student organizations, internships, volunteer and work opportunities.

Q: What do you think is one of the most major developments in the entire spectrum of public affairs in your lifetime?

A: From an economist’s perspective, I think that evidence-based policy (more recently called evidence-informed policy) is an important recent development in public affairs. Evidence-based policy uses rigorous scientific evidence from, for example, randomized controlled trials to inform public policy decisions. Such evidence allows policy makers to make better decisions, for example, when scaling up a program, improving program targeting, or implementing a policy.

Q: What do you hope to learn from your students?

A: I hope that the fresh perspectives of undergraduate students, who are relatively new to the study of economics, will help me look at my research from different angles. Sometimes after working in a particular research area for a long time, academics forget the core principles that drive even the most complicated economic analyses. In my graduate class, I hope to learn with and from the students as we delve into some of the current local, national, and global debates on food policy. Some of the students are working in or have worked in organizations covering the food sector and food policies; they can provide a different perspective on the economic, political, and social factors that influence policy decisions.