Toms River Regional Schools Hall of Fame

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Valerie R. Bencivenga

Intense intellectual curiosity and a lifelong passion to understand and teach about the complex world marketplace mark the career of Valerie R. Bencivenga, Ph.D. Valerie has held the position of Senior Lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin since 1996. She credits family support during her early years for her success. Her parents Jean and Ernest offered their eldest daughter loving encouragement at every step and timeless advice--"Just do your best." Valerie is grateful that her parents neither imposed nor confined her to an expected career or level of education. She is thankful for the rich family and cultural experiences that were afforded to her and her siblings: Barrett and Kristin (twins), Brandon, and half brothers Robert (deceased) and David. Valerie expresses a fortuitous genetic predisposition, "It's in my personality to like school."

Valerie is greatly appreciative of her high school teachers who provided inspiration and support, while teaching her how to develop an intellectual approach to the world. Mr. Garrabrant, Miss Kengeter, Mrs. Diaz, and Mr. Cervino managed to convey to her and her classmates that their efforts to understand literature were important and valuable, yet only the tip of the iceberg. They encouraged her to form her own thoughts about writers and books while competing against herself only. Books by visionary writer Ayn Rand, containing heavy doses of economic theory and philosophy, provided an early intellectual stimulus. Valerie began to understand that she lived in the middle of a fascinating market place where millions of people engage in specialization and exchange: an amazing system that works! She knew early on that she wanted to study exactly how it worked, what allowed it to work, and the limits of what a market system could achieve. Recalling her very first class in economics at Princeton University, Valerie notes, "I was hooked after ten minutes!"

Attending graduate school, after earning her B.A. degree in economics (1976) at Princeton in just three years, was a natural progression for Valerie. A year later, she had earned her M.A. from the University of Toronto and by 1985 her Ph.D., also from or onto. Career positions, prior to her current assignment at the University of Texas, included Visitor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Assistant Professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Instructor at the University of Western Ontario, Lecturer at Cornell University, and advancement to Senior Lecturer at Cornell.

Valerie's professional life encompasses complementary elements: teaching and research. Teaching affects students forever, while research is an additional way to make lasting contributions. Valerie sees herself primarily as a teacher and employs strategies to "coax and cajole" her students "to learn more than they think they can." Her students learn the language of economics and the impact of policies; they become aware of the importance of questions and issues, and understand ways that economists have thought about those questions and issues. Valerie's peers know her as a superb teacher who instructs high level courses in economics and boldly takes on the huge (300+ students) basic introductory classes, as well. She has a prized talent for getting students interested in one of the most formidable subjects-statistics. Her former students spread the word to newcomers that she is demanding (in the most complimentary way), unabashedly curious, and willing to help individuals set high standards for themselves. They advise, "Take her courses. You'll learn a lot!"

The role of teacher encompasses more than instruction for Valerie. Students frequently bring their joys and tribulations to her. A significant portion of her interaction with students involves helping and advising them as they navigate the gamut of personal and family issues that impact their college careers and life choices. Valerie has authored numerous publications in leading economic journals and reviews, as well as a variety of working papers. She seeks "to develop results to which, policymakers can turn to shape thinking about how to configure markets to work best."

A notable publication was Financial lntermediation and Endogenous Growth (a collaborative effort with her late husband, Bruce D. Smith) appearing in the Review of Economic Studies, 58 (1991), 195-209. It explains the impact of healthy financial markets on the process of growth and development throughout the world. The concept is most significant, since 80% of the world's people live in developing nations. This landmark document is among the most cited in major economic journals. Valerie values opportunities to interact with other academics. She presents her research papers regularly at economic conferences in the United States and around the world.

While attending an economic conference at Stanford in January 1986, Valerie met her future marriage partner and research collaborator. It was an instant match. Valerie states, "We decided to get married before we started dating." Bruce and Valerie changed jobs, moved to the Toronto area to be together, and married on June 27, 1987. Their union thrived; they developed common research interests and applied "complementary skill sets." Bruce specialized in monetary theory, while Valerie's interests were economic development and data. Their research in economics was farreaching and significant. Sadly, Bruce's courageous fight against cancer ended after eight. years with his death in July 2002. Valerie admired Bruce's positive attitude, courage, productivity, and the amazing work ethic that he demonstrated despite his illness. She values her loving care for her husband and strong support of his professional efforts during this demanding period as the most important accomplishment of her life.

Valerie is active in the Ethical Society of Austin. Members provide mutual support in the lifelong endeavor of building ethical character. Recently, she trained as an Adjunct Leader and is certified to perform weddings, memorial services, and other services. Valerie enjoys sailing, photography, cooking, and traveling when time permits.

The Toms River Schools Hall of Fame is proud to honor Valerie R. Bencivenga, Ph.D. for her research and impact on economic thought. Her model of service to students and devotion to others is an inspiration to us all.


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