Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Member Mag Member Profile: Mark Pingle

Our October Member Mag Profile features Mark Pingle, professor of economics at University of Nevada, Reno. Read on to learn more about how he got his start, what he loves most about his job and how a teacher influenced his career path.


Name: Mark Pingle
Title/Occupation: Professor of Economics, University of Nevada, Reno
Family: Wife, Melissa; daughters Rachel, Rebekah and Leah
One Nevada Credit Union Member Since: 1990
Resident of Reno Since: 1990

Your favorite thing about banking with One Nevada Credit Union: The willingness of the people at One Nevada to help you with special situations. I have gotten a number of loans, but I have also opened accounts for special purposes, all without fees … the staff at One Nevada has always bent over backwards to try to help.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your career at UNR and what subject you teach?
I am a full professor of economics and have been at UNR since 1990. I teach primarily macroeconomics, which is the study of workings of the economy as a whole. I was Chair of the Economics Department from 2001-2005. During that time as Chair, I helped initiate the Ph.D. program in economics that we have now. For the last three years I have spearheaded the development of a new entrepreneurship program at UNR, which trains young people in starting a new business enterprise.

Q: How long have you been a professor at UNR?
22 years

Q: What do you love most about teaching at UNR?
Making a difference in the lives of students. I have taught a few thousand students now, and I regularly see students in the community. Seeing that I have made a small, positive difference in the lives of individuals in the most satisfying aspect of my job.

Q: What is your education background? What path did you take to get to where you are today?
I graduated from a smaller high school (141 in my graduating class). I always knew I was going to college but did not know what I wanted to do. I changed my major five times en route to discovering economics as an interest. I took the GRE (graduate record exam), as I neared finishing my undergrad degree in economics at Southern Oregon State College—now Southern Oregon University—and did well enough to get financial aid to go to grad school in economics. The University of Southern California made me the best financial offer and is a good school in economics, so I became a Trojan. My goal was to return to Southern Oregon and teach at my alma mater, which I did. However, due to budget cuts, I (later) lost my job. I went back on the national job market, choosing the job offer I received from UNR because it was a good offer and because UNR is in the West. (I chose UNR over University of Missouri in Columbia Missouri.)

Q: What influenced you to become a professor? Or did you know that you always wanted to be a professor?

My parents were both K-12 teachers. I did not think about becoming a professor until I saw how little time professors spent in the classroom compared to my parents. The professor thing looked like a good gig, and I developed a strong interest in economics, so I explored it. Another major influence was a particular professor I had as an undergrad. He was a great teacher, so the idea of becoming like him appealed to me.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your career or the most challenging?

The most rewarding experiences have been those where extra efforts have born fruit. Examples include helping the UNR economics department obtain a Ph.D. program, helping and international behavioral economics society obtain a spot at the prestigious meetings of the Allied Association of Social Sciences, helping create a new entrepreneurship program at UNR, and helping individual students become Ph.D.s or lawyers or significant citizens in the community.

The biggest challenges tend to involve trying to change bureaucratic processes or dealing with people who are not very reasonable. People make things happen. When they decide they want to obstruct something, they often can do so effectively. So, getting people to work together can be a challenge.

Q: What would you say are some of the surprising or most impressive things about the University that most aren’t aware of?

University administrators, the support staff and professors, for the most part, really care for students. There are issues that arise in the lives of students that are relatively unique, which sometimes do not fall within basic university processes. People at the university who go the extra mile to help students succeed regularly impress me.

Also, many are probably not aware of the terrific extracurricular clubs available for students to pursue specific interests with others students, interests of all types. I have been primarily involved with the economics club, the entrepreneurship club and the students in free enterprise club. These are only three of the clubs on campus, which number more than 100.

Q: How do you think we can improve the percentage rate of high school graduates who attend college?

Being very honest, I believe we should kick kids out of school who are not taking it seriously, and we should significantly raise the average level of expectation, so as to raise the seriousness of the high school education effort. We kid ourselves when we think a student is learning merely because they are at school. By making the experience more significant, more students would take it seriously; a higher percentage would graduate and a high school degree would become more meaningful than it is.

When I say we should kick some kids out, I am not saying we should simply abandon them. Kids who are dragging down others, and who should therefore be removed, should be provided a variety of other options, though all of those other options should involve MORE work and HIGHER expectations than standard school. For the most part, people live up to or down to the expectations placed upon them. Currently, we do not expect enough from our youth, and we are doing them a disservice in this regard.

Q: Throughout your tenure at UNR, what changes have been most surprising with either the students or in the way the university has evolved? (i.e.; technology, use of computers, smartphone access)

The physical growth of the campus itself has been surprising. The construction of the new library, the Knowledge Center, and new student union has moved the center of campus activity north. The rather rapid movement of the University toward a greater research focus and greater national and international presence in research has also been a pleasant surprise. The evolution of technology has really not been so surprising.

Q: How has the latest technology in tablets, smartphones, computers etc. changed the way you teach, or has it?

It has changed the way I teach some. Because we now teach in what we call “smart rooms” that have Internet access and projectors, I can now incorporate videos from the web in classroom instruction. Students can collaborate more easily now using documents on the web, like wikis and Dropbox folders. This semester, students in my behavioral economics class will create a wiki on behavioral economics this fall term, for example. In spring, I may test what is called flipping the classroom, which involves taping any lectures so students watch those on their own time, and using class time more as a problem solving lab and a place where learning from experiments or other activities can occur in the classroom.

Q: What advice do you have for students who are deciding on a university to attend? Any tips for how to choose the right university/college?

Except for the very best schools in the nation, the quality of education you receive at one university or college will be about the same as the next. The primary difference at the most elite schools has less to do with the quality of instruction or differences in opportunities and has more to do with the fact that at elite universities there is a more uniform student body. Nearly every student you go to class with is very prepared and very motivated to work hard. So, as an undergraduate, I would suggest minimizing the amount of debt incurred.

Another tip is that there may be some college or university that is especially good at what you want to do, and that can make a difference. For example, the University of Missouri in Columbia is known for its journalism program. There is really no reason to go to the University of Missouri over other schools that I know of, unless you want to do journalism, for they have tended to place their graduates in very good jobs over a long period of time.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

Right now, I am spending time with my youngest daughter as she plays softball. She is on a traveling team, so that takes time. Also, baseball was my thing when I was younger, so it is fun for me to help her on her swing and other aspects of her game—when she wants help. I try not to be the dad who puts too much pressure on his kid, but it is fun to be involved with her when she wants my help.

I have, for a number of years now, helped the Reed High School ‘We the People’ team, which is a competitive team built around the senior year government class all students must take. In the competition, the students seek to display their knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and the history surrounding it. I have learned a great deal from this, have enjoyed the time spent with these young people and with the other volunteers, and I like the idea that I am helping some youth learn about some of the principles that makes our country great.

Q: Anything else you’d like us to know about you or UNR, please feel free to add.

I appreciate that One Nevada, and previously Nevada Federal Credit Union, has supported economic education, specifically has supported the ECON DAY we put on each year, which is a three-hour set of sessions and lunch (or dinner) aimed at exposing young people to what economics is all about.


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