Elizabeth Richardson, Trinity Communications
This past spring, Econ 101 had a bit of a glow-up.
The introductory course, which typically focused on how costs and benefits are traded off in business environments, is evolving to expand students’ views of what economics is.
Professor Thomas Nechyba, who taught the class in spring 2022, explained the changes: “Economics is a science that investigates the consequences of choices we make in all walks of life — because all choices involve costs and benefits even if those aren’t always expressed in money terms,” he said. “The way I teach it now allows students to develop the sense that economics is a science that aims at an improved understanding of the world around us.”
Under the guidance of Chair James Roberts, the department has been focusing on showing undergraduates how economics applies to multiple disciplines. Roberts said he wants all students, not just economics majors, to have a better understanding of the many different dimensions of the discipline. Restructuring the 101 class is part of that plan.
“Many students who are passionate about issues that economics can help them think about might not realize this is the case,” said Nechyba. “This course helps to shatter pre-conceptions that limit economics in the minds of students while getting them excited about becoming part of the research process that applied economics to issues they are passionate about.”
So what do the students think?
While Nechyba has plenty of ideas on how to improve the course even more, student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Many students expressed surprise at how different actual economics is from their high school classes. Interaction with faculty and alumni were also prioritized heavily.
“The students loved engaging with visiting faculty in class, and visiting faculty kept expressing how surprised they were at how engaged and prepared the students were,” said Nechyba. “They also loved meeting alumni and hearing from them about the ways in which their economics training has helped them.”
Nechyba hopes that the new Econ 101 will help dispel the myth around campus that economics equals finance.
“By painting a rich landscape of all the topics that economics touches, by focusing on the exciting ideas that make economics applicable to all of these issues, by getting students engaged in what research in economics looks like, the course allows students to see ways in which economics is critical to understanding issues they are most passionate about,” he said.