Giving Back: An interview with Jean Kinsey

November 23, 2021

When I retired in 2010, I decided to establish an endowed graduate fellowship in the University of Minnesota Foundation that would fund graduate students who wanted to study the economics of consumer behavior and/or food consumption/marketing/demand/health relationships. Since that time nine graduate students have received a partial year funding from this fellowship which is matched by a University of Minnesota endowment.  Colleagues and industry partners helped kick start this fellowship; my goal is to increase the size of the endowment funds so that at least one student can receive a full year of fellowship funding each year.


Why do you want to establish a fellowship?

I believe that research into and education about the economics of consumer behavior as it relates to the food availability, public policy, and industry organization it critical for consumers’ health and well-being. Public policies that provide equitable access to safe and healthy food depend on this type of research.


I know from experience as professor and Director of the Food Industry Center that funding to support graduate student research is increasingly hard to secure. Fellowships are one way to supply some of the funds that will allow students to explore and expand a base of knowledge that informs choices made by law makers, regulators, health care workers, educators, and consumers in general.


I was privileged to advise many bright, enthusiastic, passionate students who care about consumers’ access to safe and healthy food. They studied how food policies and industry practices affect consumption patterns, nutrition, and health. Some of those students went on to help shape food stamp policies, dietary guidelines and more. We need future generations of students to carry on that work.


I have a desire to “give back” to a university and a profession that afforded me one of the best jobs in the world; it was an opportunity to develop my intellectual passion and help to further knowledge in my field of interest. I am excited to see that current students have similar opportunities.


How did you get interested in economics as applied to consumers’ well-being?

My first career job after graduating from St. Olaf College was to teach Home Economics in a high school in California. I found that teaching household finance and management led me to understand that the naïve use of usurious consumer credit enhanced peoples’ problems with poverty and poor nutrition. After seven years in a high school classroom, I entered the Agricultural Economics Department at UC-Davis where I studied and researched the economics of consumer choice and public policy. I was always interested in the demand (vs. supply) side of the market. The Applied Economics Department at U of M provided an intellectual environment with a practical mission that supported my work and allowed me to mentor students with similar ambitions.