students smiling
Members of the 2021-2022 UWE executive board (Photo taken before face covering requirements.)

One of Illinois State University’s newest registered student organizations (RSO) is looking to expand how students view economics, and the idea of who belongs in the field.  

UWE (Undergraduate Women in Economics) is dedicated to increasing diversity and representation in economics and to fostering a sense of inclusion. “Our greatest hope is that we will be a support system and resource not only for women in economics, but everyone in the major and throughout campus,” said UWE President Katy Keithley, a senior managerial economics major from Hanna City, Illinois. 

headshot of Katy Keithley
Katy Keithley

The group launched in the fall of 2021, but UWE’s beginnings at Illinois State stem from the University being chosen for the national Undergraduate Women in Economics Challenge in 2015, spearheaded by Claudia Goldin of Harvard University, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and administered by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Illinois State was one of only 20 institutions in the country chosen for the three-year project that implemented strategies in introductory economics courses designed to encourage women to choose economics as a major.  

headshot of Dr. Susan Chen
Dr. Susan Chen

The program saw positive results at Illinois State, with the number of students who identify as women growing to nearly a quarter of those majoring in economics. Professor of Economics Susan Chen wanted to continue the momentum and suggested an RSO. “We still have work to do,” said Chen, who serves as the advisor for UWE. She noted that nationally, one in three economics majors are women. “Really, the entire nation has work to do to create an inclusive environment to increase the number of women choosing economics and staying in the major.”  

Keithley was on board as soon as Chen reached out to her about starting UWE. “I immediately loved the idea of a safe space for women in the major,” said Keithley. “Imposter syndrome can be intense, and I want UWE to be a resource for people who feel as though they are struggling or don’t belong.” 

headshot of Enrique Aguirre
Enrique Aguirre

One of the tenets of Illinois State’s UWE is building inclusivity. The organization is open to all, regardless of gender identity or major. “As a minority who grew up in a predominantly white town and is now going into a field that lacks Hispanic representation, I know what it’s like to not have a sense of belonging,” said UWE Vice President Enrique Aguirre, a finance and managerial economics major from Libertyville, Illinois. “Underrepresentation within a field only adds to the challenges that marginalized groups already face. I believe that it is important to address the gender gap in the major and field.” 

Along with fostering belonging, the group is advocating for a greater understanding of how economics impacts all fields. “Economics is almost a discovered major,” said Chen. “Many high school students do not have a lot of exposure to economics until they get to college.” She added that the concepts of economics guide and impact all professions. “Economics is not a proxy for business, it is a foundation for every field, from international relations and psychology to politics, art, agriculture, and environmental economics.”  

“Economics is a significant part of our lives whether you realize it or not,” said Aguirre. “It impacts our wellbeing, our jobs, our behaviors as consumers, and so much more.” Aguirre noted he wants to see the percentage of women in the economics major at Illinois State rise to 50 percent. “The best environments that I have worked in have been diverse ones. I believe that we can learn a lot from one another, which is why I am so grateful to be a part of something like UWE,” he said.  

Those interested can email Find more information on Instagram @ISU_UWE and on the UWE website.