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The 30 Top Thinkers Under 30: The Non-Academic Generalist Pushing for a Higher Standard of Policy Analysis

We canvassed the world of the social and behavioral sciences, looking for rising stars whose careers promise to make a lasting mark. We'll be profiling the top 30 throughout the month of April.


(Illustration: Graham Smith)

(Illustration: Graham Smith)

After graduating from Wesleyan University, Annie Rorem taught math and science to 7th and 8th graders in her hometown of Princeton, New Jersey. She noticed that boys were more willing to speak up—and occasionally shout out—in class, whether or not they knew the answer. “My female students,” she says, “would be more likely to raise their hands or wait for me to call on them, or sometimes not even offer an out-loud response at all.”

In response, Rorem created a summer math program for middle school girls, calling it "Count Me In!" “I wanted to offer a place for these 11- to 13-year-old girls to do math together, both independently and collaboratively, without focusing on how quickly anyone else was responding to a question.”

At that point, she says, “My dual interests in education policy and feminism were cemented.”

Rorem left teaching to get a Master’s in public policy at the University of Virginia. While there, she wrote a series of blog posts called “Breadwinner Mothers,” about women in Virginia who are their households’ sole or highest earners. She discovered that, among co-habiting unmarried mothers, 37 percent are their household's primary earner—as opposed to just over 20 percent among married mothers. That number became an important part of the discussion surrounding Pew's Breadwinner Moms report, since previous research had lumped unmarried mothers with single mothers.

"I also hope to challenge typical understandings of ‘women's’ occupations as somehow less worthy of professionalization or high pay. I'm a feminist, and care deeply about improving the ways in which our government signals and supports equal opportunity."

Rorem’s later research explored poverty, with her major finding being that almost half of Virginia’s children who live in economic insecurity come from a home with married parents. “We used these results to critique the idea that marriage promotion is good anti-poverty policy,” Rorem says.

She also examines the trend of today’s kindergarten classrooms focusing less on play and more on academics. Using two big datasets comparing kindergarteners in 1998 and in 2007, Rorem determined that time spent on reading and literacy rose by about 25 percent, from 5.5 to seven hours per week. The resulting paper is called “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?”

“Despite this increase in the overall time kindergarteners spent in school,” she says, “there was no change in time spent on mathematics instruction and actually significant drops in time spent on social studies, science, music, art, and physical education.”

These days, Rorem is a policy associate in the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service’s Demographics Research Group. She calls herself a “non-academic generalist” and does a lot of contract research on career and technical education alongside her social policy work.

“I'm a big Stata user,” she says, “and a huge proponent of data-driven decision-making, but know that some students find statistical software frustrating or difficult to learn, ” which is why she designed and teaches a one-credit course at the University of Virginia called “Data Wrangling."

Rorem feels strongly that there needs to be a higher standard for public-policy analysis and wants for her legacy to be one of improving the way all levels of government develop, implement, and assess important social programs.

“I also hope to challenge typical understandings of ‘women's’ occupations as somehow less worthy of professionalization or high pay,” she says. “I'm a feminist, and care deeply about improving the ways in which our government signals and supports equal opportunity for men and women.”

Rorem is particularly proud of work she did for New York City’s Sadie Nash Leadership Project, reviewing the limited research that exists about how to develop young women as civic participants. The resulting report is called “Cultivating Young Women’s Leadership for a Kinder, Braver World.”

Along with her best friend, the number theorist Anna Haensch, Rorem is producing a podcast that will be distributed by ACMEScience; they hope to release their first episode this spring. “Our working title is ‘The Other Half,’” she says, “a nod not only to women in mathematics but also to the hidden parts of daily life that are truly governed or explained by graspable mathematical concepts.”

Her life philosophy is this: “Be kind, try your hardest, and don't underestimate the power of politeness.” And she’s a serious runner, “extremely proud of my performance in a 50-mile race this past fall,” and currently aiming to set a personal record in the half marathon. She plans to celebrate her 30th birthday this May by running the length of Shenandoah National Park.

We’ll be publishing profiles of this year’s list of the 30 top thinkers under 30 throughout the month of April. Visit this page every day to read about another young person who is making an impact on the social, political, and economic issues we make it our mission to cover every day at Pacific Standard.

A version of this year’s list is also available to subscribers as a feature in our May/June print issue. For more from Pacific Standard on the science of society, and to support our work, sign up for our email newsletter and subscribe to our bimonthly magazine. Digital editions are available in the App Store (iPad) and on Zinio (Android, iPad, PC/MAC, iPhone, and Win8), Amazon, and Google Play (Android).