Michael Coon

What brought you to Hood College?

When I interviewed for the position I was immediately impressed by Hood’s picturesque campus. I was also attracted by the sense of community that you feel when you walk around campus. I had never been to a college where it seemed that everyone on campus knew each other. And, of course, when I met the other members of my department, I knew this would be a group of people that I would really enjoy working with.

What do you value most about your relationship with students?

Since I teach such a wide range of courses, it is quite common for students to take four or more different classes with me throughout their academic careers. This provides a unique opportunity for me to learn their strengths and weaknesses and help them grow and improve over several years, rather than just one semester. It also allows me to learn their individual interests, as well as personal and professional goals, and helps me to better steer them into the right path to best achieve those goals. There are very few things that are more satisfying than hearing the joy in a student’s voice when they come back after graduation and tell you how excited they are about starting their new job or graduate program.

Why is teaching your dream job?

I started teaching during the first year of my Ph.D. program. The day before I gave my first lecture I was terrified. A friend asked me, “Why are you nervous? All you are doing is explaining something you’ve known for years to people who really want to hear what you have to say.” It changed my entire perspective on my job. My job is introducing students to my favorite topic in the whole world, and enthusiastically sharing with them what I have learned over my many years of schooling and research. I can’t imagine anything better.

If you were to consider another career, what would you consider and why?

Supervillian! It’s not that I want to do evil things, but who wouldn’t want to have a secret volcano lair and an army of highly intelligent koala bears to do their bidding? I already have the advanced degree that makes a great supervillian (Dr. Doom, Dr. Octupus, Dr. Impossible, etc.). However, as an economist, it’s highly unlikely that I will have the requisite lab accident to attain my superpowers.

Describe your approach to teaching:

I believe students are more likely to put extra effort into learning about a particular topic if they are interested in it. So, my first priority is to keep the material interesting and relevant to students’ lives. I like to give students open-ended assignments that allow them to be creative and explore areas they are passionate about. I also like to keep class time as engaging as possible by pursuing active learning exercises and classroom experiments, and integrating as much technology into the classroom as possible.

What is/are your most memorable moment/s at Hood?

Every year I take a group of students to Borgne, Haiti for the Alternative Spring Break. Having the opportunity to introduce students to this country and culture, and seeing how much the students get out of it is truly one of the most rewarding parts of my job. The memory that sticks out in my mind the most occurred right after we completed painting an educational mural in one of the classrooms of a school we work with on the trip. A student looked at the finished project, humbly smiled, and simply said to herself, “We made it better.”

Describe your academic interests and research:

My research deals primarily with the economics of migration and international income transfers. Every year, hundreds of billions of dollars are sent from immigrants in wealthy nations to their families back home in developing countries. I want to find out what types of impacts these financial flows have on the sending and receiving countries, and if there is a way to harness these flows in order to maximize the potential benefits they can have.

When you aren’t working, what are you doing in your spare time?

I love to travel. The world is a huge place, and I want to see as much of it as possible. I got my first passport when I was three months old, and I have been wandering ever since. One of my personal goals is to visit at least one new country each year.

Name three books that you would recommend everyone read:

There are definitely more than three books that everyone should read, but here are three books that I have read recently and found very interesting:

Enrique’s Journey, by Sonia Nazario: This is a gripping tale of the harrowing journey that many migrants from Central America face in search of a better life in the U.S. It will change your perspective on the implications of the immigration debate in this country. We were also very fortunate to bring the author to campus as part of our Global Studies lecture series.

Garbology, by Edward Humes: This book explores the unseen world of what happens to our trash. It will make you think twice about everything you consume. I read it just before Christmas and I had a hard time enjoying opening presents because all I could think about was what was going to happen to all the wrapping paper.

Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder: This book tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his organization, Partners in Health. After reading how much he has done to improve the lives of others in the world, you will be hard-pressed to find a reason why you can’t do at least a little something to make the world a better place. It is truly inspiring.