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2014 Fall Linfield Magazine

Engaging and mentoring students 1 4 - l i n f i e l d m a g a z i n e Fall 2014 On a warm fall afternoon, Jeff Summers sits before his class in a rolling office chair, discussing how markets work. As he talks, he wheels slowly down the center aisle between the 20 or so students. They are just beginning that day’s worksheet, graphing changes in demand based on various factors. They talk softly about the problems as Summers circulates around the room, listening to conversations, looking at the work, quietly explaining the concept to a group of three students. When a conversation prompts a question he heads for the whiteboard, drawing a graph to help explain the issue. It’s clear that Summers, who became the first Dave Hansen Endowed Chair in Economics on July 1, loves teaching. There may be more lucrative positions for economists, and he tried some, but teaching is his niche and it can be traced directly to his undergraduate experience. “I enjoyed the rapport, support and mentoring that I received from my professors at a small college; it made me want to work with young people,” Summers said. “There’s nothing more exciting for me than sitting in a classroom, explaining something and a student says ‘Ah, I see!’ That is extremely rewarding and that’s why I do it.” Summers tries to limit lecture time in his classes. While he almost always provides an introduction to set the ground rules and review some particularly knotty economic theory, most class time is spent working with students in groups or individually or sending them to the board to explain a concept to the rest of the class. In most classes he provides students with discussion questions ahead of class to give them an opportunity to prepare. “You have to get them engaged individually, rather than have them sit and listen to me talk,” he said. Levi Altringer ’15 said he appreciates Summers’ style of teaching because he has the opportunity to study the discussion questions and come prepared for class. “If you are struggling with a question, you can take more time on that concept or ask about it during class,” he said, “You are able to work at your level, but you can also go to him with any question and he’s happy to help or explain it.” Summers says the most important lesson he can teach students is to be comfortable with the fact that there isn’t always a correct answer to every question. “There are more questions without good answers than there are questions with good answers,” Summers said. “My job is to help students understand what the questions are and how they need to think through the associated issues.” Linfield as a research laboratory Linfield is a ready-made laboratory for Summers’ research interest – the economics of higher education. Every day he is surrounded with the real-world workings of economics as part of higher education and that has resulted in a number of research projects and internships with students. Matt Vance ’99 had an internship with Summers in 1998 during one of the most dynamic periods in Linfield’s history. The college was in the early stages of acquiring the property from Hewlett-Packard, now known as the Keck Campus. Vance and Summers had first worked together on the strategic planning committee exploring growth at the college. For the internship, Vance worked alongside Summers analyzing large sets of data relating to admission, financial aid and enrollment, then used the findings to develop models illustrating how increases in the student body could impact the college and identifying the corresponding costs and potential revenues. Summers made an indelible impression on Vance, now a partner at VergePointe Capital, LLP, a private equity firm in Lake Oswego, and he has put many of the Linfield lessons to use in his professional life. “Jeff taught me to never walk into a meeting without having done your homework,” Vance said. “You need to understand the agenda and to make sure you have reviewed the data you will need. The Summers File At Linfield since 1992 7 years as associate dean of faculty (2001-08) Education B.A. Wabash College M.S. University of Oregon Ph.D. Purdue University Prior teaching experience Wabash College Reed College To see a video of Summers, go to youtube.com/linfieldcollege/videos. I put that into practice with clients and in meetings. But not everything can be driven by data. Jeff taught me that you need to be educated and informed but you also need to be flexible.” Summers treated Vance not just as a student, but also as a colleague. “He was a very good person to work with in a professional environment,” Vance said, “He treated me with


2014 Fall Linfield Magazine
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