Meet Jason Wong of economics, whose research focuses on the impact of aviation connectivity on regional economies and innovation, climate change impacts on aviation, and electricity infrastructure in rural India.

What attracted you to Occidental?

The students. First and foremost, what attracted me to Occidental were the critical and engaged students, who are excited about intellectual inquiry and who are not shy to speak up, ask pointed questions, and challenge underlying assumptions. I had the privilege to meet many students on campus during my interview, and they made a strong impression upon me. Occidental is a place of conscientious, dedicated, and socially-minded student-scholars. I also got the feeling that Oxy is a place that celebrates interdisciplinary approaches. I myself studied environmental science, German and economics. Oxy seems like a place where I can discuss these joint interests with students who see the beauty in applying their liberal arts training to answer complex questions and to address global challenges. And I was not wrong—I am already working with two students to develop a new research project on the remittance economy of the Philippines.

The community. My interview for the job at Oxy was easily my favorite experience on the job market. My now-colleagues from the economics department took a keen interest in my work, appreciated my development as a teacher, but above all, they really wanted to hear about my story and development as a scholar and a person. I am so proud to join one of the most diverse economics departments, where three out of four of our full professors are women and 50 percent are persons of color. But that is not to say we don’t have work to do—we have formed three equity and inclusion working groups this semester and changes are underway in classroom climate and experience, curriculum, and access to resources.

The location. I am also drawn to Oxy as a premier urban liberal arts college in the heart of Los Angeles. The region is stimulating to me as an urban and environmental economist. L.A. has a unique geography, lending itself to many interesting research questions related to transportation, urban spatial structures, and environmental and health disparities.

Oxy seems like a place where I can discuss diverse interests with students who see the beauty in applying their liberal arts training to answer complex questions and to address global challenges.

How has remote learning impacted your approach to teaching?

This semester, I am teaching Econ 322, “Economics of Sustainable Development,” synchronously from home via Zoom. While this is a new course I’ve designed, I have had to change my plans quite a lot, especially having to convert many of the in-class interactions and exercises I had planned into online activities, which proved to be challenging. But just like the students at Oxy, I think I have embraced the challenge. Beyond using breakout rooms in Zoom and PollEverywhere, I’ve tried to incorporate some new technologies into the new classroom environment. Some things I’ve been trying include a Slack Channel for class and for group project management and using Gather Town for office hours and more informal and “organic” gatherings, to provide students more opportunities for one-on-one interactions with me and each other, which I think they are sorely missing this semester. But I did not do this alone. I would be remiss not to send a big shout out to ITS for providing lots of top-of-the-line equipment for faculty, my first-year faculty learning community for peer support, and to the Center for Digital Liberal Arts for their extraordinary knowledge and speedy responses to my inquiries. 

What do you look forward to most about returning to campus?

I look forward to in-person interactions with students the most! Those random conversations in the Quad, at the Green Bean, and in my office about the seemingly most trivial thing that ends up turning into a meaningful and exciting research project. Seeing the faces light up in an ‘Aha!’ moment, realizing how the economics model we had just learned can be applied to understand real-world challenges. I want to stop by the language department events and converse with students and staff in German, Chinese, Japanese and French.

I also really look forward to Convocation and Commencement. I think they will be some of my favorite activities: listening to inspiring speeches (and giving them one day) and recognizing the achievements of the Oxy community while dressed up in Harry Potter-esque attire. I’ll be one of those that ignore decorum and cheer for the students who were in my class!

How do you balance your research with your teaching, and how much do the two intersect?

I would say that teaching and research have a symbiotic relationship and they go hand-in-hand. My research infiltrates my teaching both topically and methodologically. For example, as I teach topics like global public goods and international cooperation, a natural extension is to connect to topics that I spend a lot of time thinking about, such as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). As I have gained experience in academic research, I am able to offer better guidance in shaping students’ research projects and provide workshops on formulating research questions and academic writing. My teaching in turn influences my research as well. A few of my new research projects have been inspired by conversations with former students, who in turn work with me as research assistants. Teaching also helps me think deeper about the underlying mechanisms at play and the appropriateness of methodologies. My experiences as a teacher have also helped me to communicate my work more clearly and engagingly. So, I have my students to thank for my research progress!