For Nela Richardson, Chief Economist at online real estate brokerage firm Redfin, economics represents much more than just a profession. It’s a way of thinking about and viewing the world.
“It’s like the closet organizer of the social sciences,” Richardson said. “There’s a place for everything.”
On Wednesday, December 21st Richardson returned to her alma mater to speak to graduates at the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences’ winter commencement.
“I’m honored. I remember sitting in that seat and feeling really positive when I was graduating because the world was so open and new,” Richardson said. “But in the time since I’ve graduated, the world has changed quite a bit.”
Since leaving the university in 2005 with her Ph.D. in hand, Richardson’s career has afforded her a front-row seat for the roller coaster ride the country’s economy—and housing market in particular—has been on. She took her first job at mortgage giant Freddie Mac right as the housing market was about to hit its peak and then in the aftermath of the crash, ended up helping to craft policy and regulations intended to keep such a scenario from ever playing out again in the future.
Richardson has also worked at Bloomberg, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Now at Redfin, she leads a team of data scientists and the company’s housing research program and regularly provides insight for media outlets such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNBC and CNN.
“Everybody is really an economist by paying their bills, pumping their gas,” Richardson said. “But everybody’s view is different. Being able to relate what they’re seeing to a bigger picture is what I really love to do.”
Richardson currently lives in Washington, D.C., is married to a fellow economist and has two sons – whom she refers to as her “domestic policy team.” A native of Indiana, Richardson says she was initially drawn to the University of Maryland because of its proximity to Washington, D.C. and the reputation of the economics faculty. Ultimately, she found UMD to be a place that shaped her professionally as well as personally.
“The professors there connect to policy. They’re not just in their own little world disconnected to what’s going on,” she said. “I actually had my first baby when I was a graduate student and I found it to be a real family environment. Some of my best friends to date I met at Maryland and we’re still connected even though they’re all over the world now.”
Richardson didn't plan on encouraging December graduates of the Class of 2016 to follow in her footsteps because “the path has changed entirely.” Instead, she hoped to inspire them to achieve a level of rewarding success that can be shared with others.
“Rewarding success fills you and just regular success can kind of drain you,” Richardson said. “That’s the role of family and friends to help you pick those opportunities that reward you.”