Development Committee Reflections

With only one exception, I have attended every PAA annual meeting since 1949 when I was a senior in college. As with other members of PAA, I have looked forward both to seeing old friends as well as to the variety of presentations. Not surprisingly, these meetings have changed radically over the years both in the number of persons attending and in the number of topics covered, reflecting the expansion of what is considered the “population” field. The result is that I know a smaller and smaller proportion of the members – a familiar demographic process. Nonetheless, I still look forward to the annual event and now to the deliberations of the Development Committee which has led the fundraising to try to match the foundation challenge grant. I have been a strong supporter of this effort with a special interest in its potential for increasing the participation of members from developing countries.

Charles F. Westoff
Princeton University

I can’t remember my first PAA meeting – perhaps it was the 1991 gathering in Washington, D.C. I thought of myself as a labor economist rather than a demographer. But my long years working on and ultimately directing the Panel Study of Income Dynamics had forced me to confront the complications of the demographic turbulence of the U.S. population almost every day.

I like that meeting a lot. All of the sessions I attended had good quality papers and discussants. I saw a lot of people who shared my research interests, and I was able to sample new areas to discover their current ideas. My first PAA service was on the Committee on Population Statistics. I confess to wondering what I had gotten into when a side conversation between two members turned into a boasting match over which one had visited the most U.S counties.

But I stuck with it, became a regular at the meetings, served on the Board and ultimately as President. Most striking during my year as President was that no one ever said no to a request for serving the organization. PAA members care deeply about their science and the integrity of the data that fuels their work. I am happy to make generous annual contributions to the PAA Fund to help advance the worthy goals of its members.

Greg J. Duncan
University of California, Irvine

When I joined the Census Bureau as a GS-5 statistician in late 1950, I had no idea about where my career was headed. My supervisors encouraged me to attend a PAA meeting and my experiences at that meeting immediately attracted me to population research and training. It wasn’t only that the subject matter and demographic techniques were interesting; it was also that I was cordially received by Association members and made to feel that I could become part of the profession.

In all the years that I have attended PAA meetings since then, PAA has never lost the touch. Whether you are a middle-level professional or a recent graduate, you are made to feel welcome. Now, with the money being raised through the PAA Fund Campaign, the Board of Directors is allocating funds to projects that make it even easier for members to develop their careers and become part of the demographic profession. I am doing my part to help the Fund Campaign. Won’t you contribute to it, too?

Charles B. Nam
Florida State University

Outside of the academic institutions that have employed me, the Population Association of America has been the most important institution in my professional life. Its journal has been the single most important outlet for my research and its annual meetings have provided scores of opportunities to receive feedback on my research before it is submitted or scuttled, The requirement that presidents of PAA give a presidential address encouraged me to develop a broad topic related to public issues that would never otherwise have been pursued.

But above all the PAA has helped to create a field of study and provided a place where demographers can be demographers. That opportunity is severely constrained by the departmental structure of American universities. But in PAA demographers can drop their guard and let it fly!

Samuel H. Preston
University of Pennsylvania

Ever since I attended my first PAA meeting in the early 1970s, I’ve felt that the community of demographers attending these meeting were my ‘ohana’ – my extended family. We are not only an intellectually stimulating group, but one that has extensive personal ties crossing many generations of mentors and mentees and many geographic boundaries. PAA makes it possible for this ohana to come together,  learn from each other, and enjoy each others’ company – and to grow our family by inviting scholars and students from around the world to participate in our meetings. Although academic departments and research institutes are the core incubators of top-quality demographic research, PAA plays an important secondary role by bringing together colleagues from a wide range of departments and institutes. Without PAA, our intellectual life would be impoverished and our field the weaker in consequence. I know that my own scientific work would have suffered if I had not had the opportunity to participate in PAA’s annual meetings throughout my academic career.

It was when I served on the PAA Board of Directors in the 1980s that I first realized how frugal—even impoverished—PAA is compared with many professional societies. I think many of us are proud of PAA’s lack of bling and fiscal conservatism. But this also limits the extent to which the organization can play the role of cross-departmental intellectual incubator. I was delighted to learn about the effort to raise matching funds from several generous foundations that would enhance our ability to promote top-quality demographic science, and agreed to join the Development Committee, whose mandate is to ensure that the foundation grants are matched by individual contributions. I am retired and no longer have a salary flowing into my coffers, but I consider it an honor and an obligation to support the organization that has provided so much support to me in the past. I’m proud that so many PAA members have contributed to the PAA Fund and plan to continue my own contributions into the future. I hope many others will join me.

Karen Oppenheim Mason