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Jessica LaVoice: just the beginning of a Bowdoin legacy

February 25, 2022

This piece represents the opinion of the author.
Kyra Tan

Assistant Professor of Economics Jessica LaVoice joined the College community in 2020, and her impact is already felt across campus.

LaVoice first became interested in urban economics when she noticed how segregated and distinct her hometown of Springfield, Mass. was from surrounding suburbs, and she wanted to find out why.

“I think those kind of intrinsic curiosities were what really motivated me to pursue urban economics specifically,” LaVoice said.

Exploring these motivations, LaVoice found her passion in studying government programs and the effects they had on cities. She is particularly interested in analyzing urban renewal, specifically slum clearance, and its implicated socioeconomic elements.

“The federal government gave cities money to subsidize the clearance of neighborhoods that city officials deemed to be slums. So what I asked in my research is ‘How are these neighborhoods chosen, and was there a discriminatory element to it?’” LaVoice said. “So, yes, it is the case that we see that Black neighborhoods are disproportionately targeted for clearance, holding constant some of these other factors that were driving cities’ decision, such as places that had lower housing values or more substandard housing.”

LaVoice’s focus on urban economics and economic history guided her decision to attend the University of Pittsburgh for her doctorate degree in economics where she could learn under faculty members she admired.

“Pittsburgh really surprised me. I had never been there before I started my Ph.D., but it was a place that I had maybe some negative perceptions about,” she said. “I kind of envisioned this old, industrial, polluted city, but it was really a great place to spend a large portion of my 20s.”

When she was finishing up her doctorate degree, LaVoice knew she wanted to join a liberal arts college community, due to its focus on allowing professors to prioritize both research and teaching. At Bowdoin, LaVoice liked how engaged students could be in research, how much research support Bowdoin gave its faculty and how she could design some of her own courses.

“When it came down to actually making the choice, Bowdoin felt like the obvious one to make,” LaVoice said.

LaVoice joined the Bowdoin community in the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, moving to Brunswick in the summer of 2020. In an effort to social distance, LaVoice and her husband decided to explore Maine, kayaking on the Androscoggin River and venturing to places like Popham Beach and Reid State Park.

“Maine has really been a wonderful place to explore all of these different outdoor activities, and I’ve really enjoyed that about moving here,” she said.

In addition to her exploration of Maine’s natural amenities, LaVoice is also an avid fan of the local farmers’ markets and Maine Beer Company in Freeport.

As LaVoice reflected on her experience teaching on Zoom during the pandemic, she couldn’t help but notice how the Bowdoin community stood out from those she was hearing about elsewhere.

“I was teaching a class Thursday night. I really like economics, but we can all think of things we’d rather be doing on a Thursday night at 8 p.m.—It’s not economics,” she remembered. “That said, students were still signing into class every week. They showed up engaged and ready to learn. They were participating in class, asking questions and engaging in class discussions. That was really wonderful.”

At a time when she was logging into Twitter and seeing faculty across the U.S. documenting their experiences teaching remotely and discussing how disconnected they were from their students, LaVoice again realized she was lucky.

“I really appreciated that Bowdoin students showed up and helped meet me halfway in creating a sense of community in the classroom,” she said. “That was a much better way to start my career than it otherwise could have been lecturing to black boxes and whatnot.”

To Polar Bears currently going through the motions, LaVoice has some words of advice:

“My advice to Bowdoin students, particularly ones that might feel similar to how I felt [as a first-generation college student], is to really lean in to the opportunities that Bowdoin is providing you to engage with faculty,” LaVoice said. “Bowdoin faculty really want to help you learn and they really want to see you succeed. I think just keeping that in the back of your mind when you’re approaching faculty will make it a more beneficial experience for you.”

Despite the hurdles of her first year teaching at Bowdoin, LaVoice’s impact on our community can already be felt by students and faculty alike. By expecting the best but also putting in that same effort herself, LaVoice exemplifies what a professorship looks like at Bowdoin. Thanks for all you do, Professor!

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