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UNM People Changing Worlds: Changing Worlds on Two Continents

Scholarships Foster Economic, Academic and Humanitarian Ties to Latin America

By Hilary Jetty

Many years before he served as chair of the UNM Department of Economics, Julian Duncan’s calling to the ministry and his passion for learning led him to personal and professional missions dedicated to changing lives.

His daughter, Georgia Duncan, certainly inherited her late father’s humanitarian spirit, and through her generous endowment of a scholarship at UNM’s College of Arts and Sciences, she will continue this tradition for future generations.

Raised in Mississippi in the early days of the 20th century, Julian became a Methodist minister, following in the footsteps of his father. A serious scholar, he earned BA and MA degrees in sociology from the University of Mississippi, and a divinity degree from Emory University.

His humble and compassionate nature was perfectly suited to serving his congregation well, yet there was something in the young man’s soul that struggled with the overt and implied social and racial policies of his time and place. His moral compass led him in a new direction.

From the U.S. South to South America

“It was 40 years before civil rights legislation would be passed in the United States, and my father saw that equality, in education and other ways, was still far from reality,” noted Georgia. “He moved away from the South and transferred to an English-speaking congregation in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.”

Immersed in the life and culture of a new environment, Julian’s experiences drew him toward a critical realization. “He decided that economic knowledge might benefit any society as well as religion could,” Georgia stated, “and eventually returned to the U.S. to complete his doctoral degree in economics at Columbia University. He wrote his dissertation on the Brazilian railroads.”

Georgia acquired a profound appreciation for the benefits of higher education from both parents. Her mother Erna Woitzel, who possessed an adventurous and independent nature, grew up on a Nebraska farm. Encouraged to set her sights on a career, she became a public school teacher, then studied art and earned a master’s degree.

“One day, my mother’s brother saw an ad at the post office. It was seeking people with drafting skills to work in Washington, D.C.,” recalled Georgia. “She had only taken one drafting course, but she immediately bought a car, quickly learned how to drive it, and went to Washington—and this was the early 1930s!”
A shared love of music brought Erna and Julian together, and his career involved various teaching and research appointments, including work at the Brookings Institution and the U.S. State Department.

Taking His Family and his Talents to the Southwest

Georgia’s family moved to Albuquerque when she was 10. She graduated from Highland High School, and then from UNM with a degree in psychology. “I attended commencement in 2010 as a Golden Grad,” she remarked, “and it was great fun. I felt quite honored.”

Julian’s tenure on the UNM faculty spanned from 1947 until his death in 1962 and included his serving for the longest continuous term as chair of the Economics Department. Professor Emeritus David Hamilton, whose teaching career in the department began in 1949 and spanned 60 years, recalls working closely with Julian.

“Julian was a southern gentleman in manner,” Hamilton said. “He was an absolute delight to work with, and very interested in promoting faculty careers and students. I remember him coming to work on his bicycle, always dressed in coat and tie, with his Irish Setter following him. The dog would wait patiently in his office while he taught.”

Although Julian’s path took him from the church pulpit to the professorial podium, personal warmth infused his collegial relationships. “Even though he was a professional economist,” said Hamilton, “there was still the element of the minister in him. His door was always open.”

Throughout his time at UNM, Julian remained concerned with the economic problems of Latin America. He was a consultant to the Brazilian government, and served as a research fellow at the University of El Salvador. In 1959, he was honored by the Central American Committee on Economic Cooperation.

Honoring a Life of Service, Benefiting Young Scholars

To honor her father’s keen intellect and kind heart, Georgia decided to endow the Julian S. Duncan Scholarships in Latin American Economic Studies in the Economics Department. The first Duncan Scholars were Alexandra Blodget and Javier Rojo.

Alexandra is completing her MA in Latin American Studies with an emphasis in economics and human rights. Her interest was sparked by prior experience as a paralegal in the immigration field. Noting that “a thorough grasp of economic concepts is crucial to understanding both government policy and the immigration phenomenon itself,” she feels moved to explore the factors that drive people to such extreme sacrifices and risks, and she seeks to study ways to “develop humane and realistic immigration policies.”

An Albuquerque native, Javier graduates in May 2012 with a double major in economics and philosophy. The theme of his undergraduate thesis was Mexico’s drug war and his goal is to earn a Ph.D. in Public Policy. Receiving the award boosted his confidence and broadened his horizons.

“[The scholarship] made it possible for me to go to Nicaragua to take a course with a well-known professor there, focusing on Latin American Economics,” Javier said, “Nicaragua is such a poor country, and I wanted to learn about how they are trying to develop it sustainably.”

Professor Robert Berrens, current chair of the Department of Economics, appreciates the impact of these awards. “It is important to the Economics faculty to recognize scholarly excellence,” he noted. “The Julian S. Duncan Scholarships are significant because they carry on the legacy of his work, providing support for promising students who excel academically and also have a humanitarian interest in their endeavors.”
Julian Duncan was an agent of change before, and during, his time at the University; thanks to Georgia Duncan, worlds will continue to be changed for many more UNM students for years to come.

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