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Ostrom’s Colleagues Say Winning the Nobel Didn’t Change Her


The colleagues of Nobel Prize Winner Elinor Ostrom say they lost a friend and a scholar when Ostrom passed away Tuesday after a brief battle with cancer. They credit her for never letting her achievements change how she interacted with her students and peers.

Up until just weeks before she died, Elinor Ostrom had plans to continue meeting with researchers and travelling to places as far away as Mexico. When Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009, she started picking up more speaking engagements, but her colleagues say she didn’t let her busy schedule keep her from spending time with students and researchers at her own university.

Speaking Friday on WFIU’s Noon Edition, Ph.D. student Gwendolyn Arnold says Ostrom is the reason she came to Indiana University.  Ostrom chaired her dissertation committee and Arnold says she never let mentoring students fall by the wayside.

“She had an automatic reply on her email for a while. And it was something like, ‘I’m appreciative of your email, but I’m not taking speaking engagements’—and it was something crazy, another 2 years or something, because her schedule is that booked up,” she says. “And then of course a couple of hours later her assistant emailed me and was like, ‘no, Lin can meet with you tomorrow.’”

Arnold is a member of the Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, and she says Ostrom often compared that research team to a family.

Ostrom’s IU colleagues say while she remained close to her colleagues and students after winning the Nobel Prize, the award did bring more attention to her work. IU economics professor Ted Carmine says that was a big change for a social scientist who was not always doing the most conventional kinds of research.

“Lin was always at home at interdisciplinary work, so she was never a mainstream political scientist or economist or public policy scholar,” he says. “Right from the beginning, just in the name of the workshop of political theory and policy analysis–they believed those things had to be integrated. You couldn’t really have one without the other.”

Carmine says because she was an interdisciplinary researcher who collaborated with scholars in other fields and other countries, her name became well-known at research institutions abroad before her work was recognized in the U.S.

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