The secret lives of our profs

Taylor Maccoux

David Gerard, an economics professor in his second year at Lawrence, has been teaching for 20 years. He earned a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois and a Bachelor of Science degree in American studies and economics from Grinnell College. Recently, he taught for eight years at Carnegie Mellon University while working as executive director of the Center for the Study and Improvement of Regulation in the DeparMaccouxent of Engineering and Public Policy. Gerard’s experiences there led him to join the admired Lawrence faculty.Maccoux: What is your favorite part about Lawrence University?
Gerard: I’ve got some great colleagues here. There are lots of interesting people who love talking about ideas. Even people outside of my discipline are interested in being part of my intellectual life. It’s really wonderful to be in this kind of environment.
Maccoux: What got you interested in economics?
Gerard: I’m not sure. I think if you think like an economist, it’s more interesting to you. I’ve been told that I have great economics instincts, so I guess that’s my comparative advantage.
Maccoux: I know you studied American studies and economics for your B.S. What made you decide to pursue economics on a higher level?
Gerard: I went to Washington, D.C. for an off-campus program, and I saw what academic economists did. I was interested in energy and environmental policy and thought academics was a good route.
Maccoux: What made you decide to become a teacher?
Gerard: That was really the same decision because my goal was to teach at a small school. My professors at Grinnell College were my role models – definitely. I wouldn’t have known this job existed if I had gone to a big university. My professors led by example. They seemed to find teaching a valuable thing to do, and they also seemed to lead pretty interesting lives.
Maccoux: Although you had a successful career at Carnegie Mellon University, what made you go back to a smaller school?
Gerard: I was working as a research fellow at Carnegie Mellon, thinking about questions such as “how do you force firms to become more innovative?” when the director position for CSIR opened up. I was involved in several projects and working with a lot of graduate students. I also started teaching in the Engineering & Technology Innovation Management master’s program and in the DeparMaccouxent of Social & Decision Sciences. It was a really great gig, and I loved Pittsburgh, but I felt like I wanted to come back to a liberal arts environment if I could find the right fit. I didn’t know if anyone would hire me, but I applied to a few schools, and here I am.
Maccoux: What would you say are the greatest benefits and challenges of being a college professor?
Gerard: The greatest benefits of my job are my colleagues and my students. Impacting students’ lives is unbelievably rewarding and a great feeling. My biggest challenge is that I don’t know when to shut it off. I could spend all of my time working and always thinking about my job. It’s no different if I’m behind my desk or out in the woods, I still think about my job, and I like what I do.
Maccoux: I know that you’ve had many achievements in your career, but what would you say is your biggest professional accomplishment?
Gerard: That’s a tough one. I think my biggest professional accomplishment is that I’m still teaching. It’s easy to get lured away by other goals. I thought I wanted to be a teacher, and it turns out I still do. I’m happy that I’m doing this.
Maccoux: What is your favorite class to teach? Why?
Gerard: My favorite class is my 300-level theory class. Last year’s class might have been the best class I’ve ever taught in terms of how much fun I had and what the students got out of it. I am lucky because I can bring my research into most of my applied classes. The students seem to buy in more if they know I’m connected with it somehow.
Maccoux: What common characteristic do you see in the students that you interact with?
Gerard: One of the things that attracted me to Lawrence was the students. They are smart, nice and humble. Actually, my wife and I wanted to rename our dog “Lawrence” because of his attitude, enthusiastic and charming, a lot like the students. Lawrence has a great mix of students that make up a wonderful environment. It’s a great place to be, in the friendly confines of Lawrence University.
Maccoux: Do you have any advice for students who are interested in taking your classes?
Gerard: They should take my classes. My 100-level class is a lot of fun – hard, but fun. I want students who think it’s good to sign up for hard classes. Oh, and they should read our blog: http://blogs.lawrence.edu/economics.
Maccoux: Now that we’ve discussed your life as a professor, what are some of your favorite activities outside of the classroom?
Gerard: I’ve got a great wife, two young children named Dexter and Greta and the dog. I love spending time with them, especially taking long bike rides with my kids and walking the dog. That’s about all I need.

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