The economics of a professor
It took a while for her to figure it out, but Professor Melanie Blackwell knew that her olive farm could not stay around for long. Blackwell, who lived in Rome for five years, is the newest addition to Washington University’s economics department. In addition to her expertise in the field, she brings her unique experiences, such as the unfortunate failure of her olive farm, into the classroom.
Professor Blackwell spent her undergraduate education at Texas A&M, and completed her master’s. and Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky. She then spent 16 years at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she was part of the economics department and the co-director of environmental studies.
After 16 years at Xavier, Blackwell was offered the chance to be a consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which happened to be headquartered in Rome, Italy. She spent her first year there working on biodiversity and intellectual property rights. It was not long before Blackwell “fell in love with Italy.”
After a mandatory return to America for a year, she went back to Rome, this time as an associate professor of economics at the American University of Rome. Also around this time, Blackwell decided to buy an olive farm. Its profitability, however, was questionable.
“You can’t be an olive farmer part-time and a professor full-time,” Blackwell said. “It was a whole lot cheaper to buy olive oil than to produce it myself.”
Given that it was just Blackwell and a friend growing the olives, the farm did not last long.
“After three harvests, I just gave up,” she said. “It was financial suicide.”
Blackwell’s time spent across the pond has found its way into her teaching. The first module in one of her classes revolves around the issue of illegal immigration, which the professor had plenty of experience with while in Rome. To her, it seemed a clear teaching opportunity to “talk about immigration policy when you were an immigrant.”
Having been one herself for a short time, Blackwell feels that illegal immigrants are given a bad name.
“It’s easy to overstay visas and become an illegal immigrant,” she said. “But when you stop and think about illegal immigration, who does it hurt?”
Now that she is back in the States, Blackwell says that Washington University has done an admirable job living up to the high standards set by her years in Rome. Compared to previous universities she has taught at, Blackwell says that there is “just a world of difference.”
She is especially taken with the University’s faculty.
“Some people are tired of their own professions and only going through the motions, but here people are passionate about their profession, and I find it contagious,” Blackwell said. “It helps you show students why it is you fell in love with economics in the first place.”