Whether preferring to shop for new designer goods, visit the farmer's market or frequent the local “buy nothing” webpage, every individual in a community is, at some level, a consumer. Consumption concerns the acquisition of food, services, household goods, transportation options, living spaces, toys, tools, water and electricity, media and more.
It can be a lot to unpack, but the Texas Affiliate of the American Association for Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS-TX) – and their newly appointed officers from the University of Houston – aims to do just that.
Originally founded as the American Home Economics Association in 1909 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's first female professor, Ellen Swallow Richards, AAFCS is a professional association dedicated to serving family and consumer sciences students and professionals. In past eras, family and consumer sciences may have been thought of as home economics. Over the course of more than a century and in the face of globalization and a changing sociocultural landscape, the topical scope has broadened but the core has remained the same: addressing any concern that deals with tangible issues or needs surrounding the family and the individual person in a society.
In addition to the national association, there are 48 affiliate organizations spanning the United States and Puerto Rico, including one in Texas. As of the 105th Annual AAFCS conference in 2023, UH is proud to have two of the Texas affiliate's most recently installed officers.
Olivia Johnson, assistant professor of Retailing and Consumer Sciences, will serve as AAFCS-TX President. Blake Mudd, lecturer of Retailing and Consumer Sciences, will serve as Vice President of Membership. Over the next few years, they will help guide and serve the organization as it seeks to support family science educators, industry professionals, families and communities in Texas.
“When we think about what AAFCS – or any kind of trade association – does, I think of us as being an advocate, not just for the people who are members but for the field as a whole,” Mudd said. “There's so much literacy that is done through a broad field like family and consumer sciences. It's not just teaching you how to be an appropriate consumer; it's also teaching you how to interact in a world that is very complex, and sometimes we don't necessarily give ourselves enough credit for navigating that very tricky world.”
“We also see that it's a lot of building bridges among the various fields of family and consumer sciences. You have people who focus a lot on extension outreach and mental health awareness, and then you also have people like [Olivia] Johnson and I who are very much focused on retailing and consumer behavior, and you also have people who focus on nutrition and family studies. In the end, it's really about advocacy and education.”
Johnson agreed with Mudd's assessment of their role, and the role of the AAFCS.
“Literally anything that concerns the family and the person, we do,” she said. “That's the way I like to say it in a nutshell. We talk a lot in terms of 'Why don't students know how to balance a checkbook? Why don't they know how to shop? Why don't they know how to take care of themselves? Why don't they know?' Family and consumer science deals with the whole human, including individuals and families, and we pride ourselves on being this one big continent of all of these different aspects of the self and the family.”
“As a person whose undergraduate [degree] is in engineering – so I am by no means afraid of technology – I recognize that it's really still about all of these human things. We can program the technology, but we still need the human intervention to be teachers and educators, to help with human development, to help with housing and interiors and to help with health management and food sciences.”
As consumer education options – including financial literacy, cost-effective comparison shopping, life management strategies and other "home-based" individual skills – in secondary schools continue to dwindle due to budget cuts and funding issues, striving to convey the ideal of the well-informed consumer to young people becomes more important than ever. As Technology Division faculty, both Johnson and Mudd emphasize that promoting well-rounded educational experiences equips students with the most comprehensive tools to be successful in an ever-changing world.
"Texas is a huge state, and while you have the Houstons and the Dallases and the Austins of the world, you also have very small communities with really small needs, and you have some folks that are the only family and consumer science teacher in their whole town, so they're trying to educate an entire generation on textiles and interiors and nutrition and mental health, and I think it has taught me a lot," Johnson said.
Mudd added, "We're seeing that really take place a lot in secondary schools like high schools. We're looking at a lot of schools getting rid of home economics programs and getting rid of these soft skills building programs, which I've always found to be really interesting, especially when you hear a lot of talk and politics about [our] need [for] more financial literacy in schools. Those are things that help turn an adolescent into an adult and that you can't take for granted that a family will be able to teach to a child, or will even have the resources or the knowledge of themselves.”
“These soft skills are just as important as being able to code,” Johnson said. “What if we had a student who could code, but also who could balance their checkbook, and know how to make consumer decisions and go to a grocery store and evaluate prices and things of that type? What if we had a student who could do all of those things and code? [Something like] that is the ideal. We get an opportunity to work with that idea.”
The concern is not unique to primary and secondary education, Johnson cautioned.
“One of the things that what we have to continue in higher education is to really nurture the whole, well-rounded faculty member,” she said. “I'm all for publishing. I'm all for getting grants. That's my job! I know that's what I signed up for. But there's also something for building relationships in our communities, not only in the city of Houston, but throughout the state, especially with Texas covering such a large region and being the leader in so many areas. Why can't we be the leaders in this area and show how technology and human sciences can come together to create this wonderful relationship? You don't have one without the other in my mind.”
Johnson and Mudd have high hopes for the coming years that they'll spend serving and growing as officers with AAFCS-TX.
"I think that sometimes we forget where we came from and where we were built from,” Mudd said. “When I think about supporting membership, it's not just about recruiting members. It's also about making sure that the membership feels valuable and considers the fact that our discipline is so diverse and broad.”
“[We're here] to say we matter - this matters - and to not be afraid and say it with full confidence, because we are talking about the human, and I think that when we forget about human interaction, then we forget why we're all here doing all of this,” Johnson said. “We can have the best technologies, we can have the most up-to-date research, but at the end of the day, we are all having this human experience, and we want to be in healthy relationships, and we want to have a sustainable environment, and we want to be able to go out and spend our hour in the park, and we want to raise our kids, and we want to have good finances, and we want to be able to make great decisions for the generations after us. I stand as a proud representative of AAFCS, having both those hard sciences experiences as well as understanding the importance of the human in the whole scenario.”
Johnson and Mudd encourage students, regardless of their discipline, to consider joining AAFCS-TX. There is a scholarship available for student membership dues and students of hard science disciplines are especially welcome.
“Whether you're interested in a small business, or you're a parent or you just want to learn some life skills like nutrition and health, this is a great organization to help students add another tool to their toolbox,” Johnson said.