Growing up in a town of only 500 people, Professor of Economics and Associate Dean of Faculty Jill Tiefenthaler grew accustomed to a close-knit environment in her formative years. She has found a similar community in Colgate University in her adult years.
Tiefenthaler was raised in a rural area of Iowa, where her mother and father were farmers. It is this upbringing that she credits for her success.
“It was my parents who gave me roots and wings,” Tiefenthaler said. “I was grounded in a small community so I got to grow up with a lot of self-confidence and love, but also pushed to do what I could do with my life.”
During high school, Tiefenthaler was involved in a foreign exchange program in Turkey, and that led her to become interested in feminism and women’s studies.
“I was perplexed by what I saw in Turkey compared to what I was used to in the farming community where men and women work equally alongside each other,” she said. “That got me interested in women’s studies…I never intended to do economics. I just took a class and fell in love with it.”
While attending Saint Mary’s at Notre Dame in Indiana, where she received her B.A. in economics and women’s studies, she met a number of influential people.
“I had some really important faculty members at Saint Mary’s who had a big impact on me wanting to be an economist and making me take myself seriously intellectually,” Tiefenthaler said, “So I think that has a lot to do with where I am now.”
Tiefenthaler was attracted to the Catholic women’s college for a number of reasons.
“I grew up very Catholic and went to 12 years of Catholic school,” she said. “The reason I could talk my parents into letting me go out of state and far away was because it was a Catholic women’s school.”
After graduating from Saint Mary’s, Tiefenthaler attended Duke University where she received her Masters and Ph.D. in economics. She then went directly to Colgate along with her husband in 1991.
Tiefenthaler’s experience at Saint Mary’s motivated her to join the faculty of a liberal arts college.
“Although leaving Duke there were many more opportunities to do more research-oriented jobs, I had such a wonderful experience with my liberal arts college that I wanted to have the same kind of impact on other people,” she said.
“I think the big thing I like dabout Colgate was the combination of being able to still do scholarship and to integrate it into your teaching,” she said. “You get that wonderful feel where it’s not just learning and teaching in the classroom, but learning and teaching all day long. Also, in addition to being a liberal arts college, the faculty all live here, so it’s very easy. It’s great that we’re all part of the same community. I like living here and working here and being part of all of that.”
Through her role of Associate Dean of the Faculty, which she is carrying out for her third and final year, her own personal connections to the Colgate community have been extended.
“It’s an opportunity to serve your colleagues,” Tiefenthaler said. “I knew a lot of people in the social sciences, but to get to know people in the humanities and the [natural] sciences and to get to work with administrators has been a good experience.”
The position has also allowed Tiefenthaler to interact with alumni.
“I get to work with a lot of alums, and the passion with which they talk about their experiences here, in particular their relationships with faculty members, makes you realize that there’s something special about this place,” she said.
Tiefenthaler is just as enthusiastic about her relationships with her students, and sees this interaction as the best part of her job.
“I think the most rewarding experience has been one on one work with students in the honors and independent study,” she said. “I really enjoy that and the intensity of seeing them develop that intellectual maturity you get when you do research. It takes on the mentoring role, but it goes beyond the classroom and it’s a little more personal.”
She and her husband have also taken study groups to London three times in the past and recently returned from the COVE trip to New Orleans, where they traveled along with 15 students to engage in relief work.
“Those are the type of experiences where you get to know students and watch them blossom,” she said.
Tiefenthaler has been highly involved in community service. She founded a voluntary income tax assistance program that provides tax advice to low-income families. She also directs the Upstate Institute, founded two years ago with “the idea of using our brain power and skills to focus on the region as well as the community.”
Through the Institute, she became involved with about 20 to 30 community groups, including the Partnership for Community Development and the National Abolitionist Hall of Fame.
Tiefenthaler has also been able to use her work in non-traditional areas of economics to benefit the Hamilton area. Her research interests include the economic cost of domestic violence, divorce and how parents bargain over visitation and child support issues.
“One of the things that attracts me to Colgate is the opportunity to work on programs that assist the community,” she said. “I do a lot of work on local issues with the department of social services and the community action program on helping the low-income families in our county. We worked on increasing food stamp participation and we increased it almost 30 percent. That’s been a fun way to use my economics to help the community.”
Tiefenthaler is looking forward to the continued growth of the Colgate society.
“I’m excited about the way that Colgate’s going right now,” she said. “Colgate is always the place that’s always trying to make itself better, and I think it will continue to get better, so I look forward to watching and being a part of that.”