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NEW @ THE ACADEMY

Meet our Fellows: Dr. Margaret Simms (‘19)

Dr. Margaret C. Simms is a nonresident fellow in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute. Until April 2018, Dr. Simms was an Institute fellow and director of the Low-Income Working Families project at the Urban Institute.  

Prior to joining the Urban Institute, Dr. Simms was vice president for governance and economic analysis at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. She began working at the Joint Center as deputy director of research and held positions of increasing responsibility during her 20-year tenure. In 2006, she was the center’s interim president.

Before joining the Joint Center, Dr. Simms was a program director at the Urban Institute. A nationally recognized expert on the economic well-being of African Americans, her current work focuses on low-income families, with an emphasis on employment and asset building.

In 2005, Dr. Simms was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2008, the National Economic Association presented her the Samuel Z. Westerfield Award. Carleton College awarded her an honorary doctor of laws degree in 2010.

Dr. Simms holds a BA in economics from Carleton College and a PhD in economics from Stanford University.

Here is a recent interview with Dr. Simms:

  1. How did you get involved in public service?

When I was in college, I had an opportunity to participate in a summer internship program at the State Department for two years.  Even though my interests shifted from foreign policy to domestic issues, I never rid myself of “Potomac Fever” and found a way to come back some years later.

  1. Which of the Academy’s 12 Grand Challenges resonates most with you?

Social Equity is the one that most aligns with the work I have done over my career.

  1. Reflecting on your career thus far, is there a highlight, a greatest accomplishment or a funny store you’d like to share?

Since I am toward the end of my career, there are a lot of years to look back over.  One accomplishment that stands out in terms of a project meshing with proposed policy change was in the early 1990s.  I had been working on youth apprenticeships in Europe and had led a study tour of black elected and appointed officials to look at these programs in Germany and Denmark.  Our report, which talked about the implications for the U.S. system and black students in particular, was released about the time the Clinton administration was developing its School-to-Work Opportunities legislation and subsequent program.  Some of our recommendations informed their program initiatives and several of the study tour members became more deeply involved in the policy and program development.

  1. What advice would you give someone wanting to start a career in public service?

I would suggest they try it out through an internship or fellowship that would allow them to get a feel for the work, whether inside government or in an organization that works on public policy issues.  That might help them focus on how they can best use their talents and interest in public service.

  1. What was the best trip you’ve ever taken?

I have taken a lot of great trips over the years—climbed Maya pyramids in Mexico and Central America, been on safari in several countries in Africa, visited the great museums of Europe, and gone on a progressive dinner by Vespa through rush hour traffic in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).  But I always like to think that the best trip will be the next one!

  1. What was the last book you read or one that you would recommend?

I recommend two books that I have read in the past year that deepened my thinking on events I lived through.  One is the Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela, edited by Sahm Venter and the other is Max Hastings’, Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-75.  The first one is a story of resilience when confronted with unrelenting oppression. The second is about how doubling down on bad policy creates havoc and disrupts lives. They are both long (620 pages and 857 pages, respectively).  But the Mandela book can be read in segments with long intervals in between without losing the thread of his thinking and his spirit.

  1. Do you have a favorite podcast, journal, newspaper, or other kind of media?

I don’t have a favorite.  I try to read at least parts of the Washington Post and the New York Times daily.

  1. What do you work toward in your free time?

I thought that being semi-retired would free up a lot of time to read books for pleasure, conduct genealogical research, and travel.  So far, I have only been able to travel more.  The other two things are still on the ‘not yet done’ list.

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