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Excellence in Economics

The Mead family helps advance economic research for social transformation

The late Dr. Walter Mead was a distinguished natural resource economist and a UC Santa Barbara professor for 32 years. He and his wife, Thelma, had a long tradition of supporting the social sciences at UC Santa Barbara. Walter passed in 2016, but his legacy continues. In 2022, his family established the Walter and Thelma Mead Initiative for Innovative Economic Policy.

In 1957, Walter joined the Department of Economics at UC Santa Barbara, where he taught and served in various capacities until his retirement, as professor emeritus, in 1991. He generated more than 125 publications during his tenure, most in the field of natural resources (oil and timber in particular) and public policy, and was thesis advisor to many Ph.D. candidates. As a critical architect of the economics department at UC Santa Barbara, Walter, along with Thelma, contributed to the resources and prestige that have propelled the department to excellence.

The Mead family is a member of both UC Santa Barbara’s Gold Circle Society and Legacy Circle. Their philanthropy has strengthened the study of economics on campus in perpetuity. After supporting many annual graduate student fellowships, the couple established an endowed professorship –– the Walter J. Mead Chair in Economics –– in 2008. In 2012, Thelma and Walter established a second endowed chair, The Alec P. Alexander Chair in Economics, as a tribute to Walter’s former colleague, fellow faculty member, and longtime friend.

“Thelma and I established the Alexander Chair of Economics out of a conviction that recruiting top faculty is easier if the department is able to offer an endowed chair,” said Walter in 2012.

The Mead Initiative is the family’s newest philanthropic venture. Three interconnected labs will focus on economic and social transformation through social entrepreneurship, economic policy focused on the highest priority national and international problems, and the role of economists in entrepreneurship and business strategy that moves societies forward. The structure is conceived to be sufficiently agile to shift research focuses as high-profile economic and social issues arise and to take advantage of future opportunities to expand the number and breadth of labs in the future when funding allows.

“Once again, thanks to the legendary generosity of the Mead family, our Department of Economics has risen to new heights, seeding a vision that channels rigorous economic research toward practical ends with tangible benefits to society. Moreover, by allowing our students to participate in and learn from these activities, the Mead Initiative models the experience-based education that is the gold standard for the Social Sciences at UC Santa Barbara,” said Charles Hale, SAGE Sara Miller McCune Dean of Social Sciences.

The Mead Initiative will also support early career faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students. Mead Faculty Fellows will receive support for 3-5 years to help establish their research agendas. In addition to research funding, the fellowship will also provide research assistant support that will train graduate and undergraduate students.

In collaboration with the Department of Economics, the Mead family conceived this initiative to be flexible and scalable. Its flexibility will give the department important options for supporting early career faculty, making it more competitive with highly resourced private universities.

Great universities generate new knowledge that leads to solutions for our most pressing issues. Thanks to the Mead Initiative, UC Santa Barbara scholars will unite public policy, business strategy, and technology to address economic stability, access to education and healthcare, discrimination, and environmental crisis.

“It has been our great pleasure to support the Department of Economics over these many years as it has grown to be one of the largest departments on campus, inspiring many to continue in the academic field, and others to make important contributions in the business community,” said Thelma.