Associate Professor Sherry Yu Finds Interest in Economics Booming at New College

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- by New College Communications


Associate Professor Sherry Yu teaches economics at New College and says she never imagined the sea change in student interest she is experiencing this semester.

“I’m seeing a complete difference in last year to this year,” said Yu, who has been at the College since 2014. “Definitely the largest (class) I’ve ever taught. It’s a totally different feeling for teaching right now.”

She says she now has dozens of first year and transfer students who are digging into their economics coursework, a huge surge at a small school where 25 students in a course is considered large. “It’s all going in the right direction,” said Yu who credits the new administration with positive improvements like adding full time tutors and an athletics program. “A lot of entering athletes are interested in economics.”

Compared to previous years, Yu says this semester’s incoming and transfer students exhibit more active participation in class, self-discipline and a desire to improve the campus culture.

“It used to be a clash of culture here,” said Yu. “Economics students were viewed as money makers having an adverse effect on our society.”

Yu says she had reached the point where she seriously considered leaving New College. She watched class sizes dwindle, motivation plummet and students complain that the ideology of some of their peers made them afraid to take her classes.

While 55 students are now enrolled in Principles of Economics, only one student graduated with an area of concentration (major course of study) in economics last semester. “I was very saddened by that,” said Yu who believes bullying was part of the problem. “Some students suggested that income inequality or climate effects were all because of capitalists and that businessmen were the reason for agonies in our society.”

Yu is adamant that a difference of opinion should not become a license for ridicule or labeling. “It’s the opposite of open mindedness,” Yu said.

She understands the value of respectful discourse better than most. Yu was born in China and grew up in Canada.  “I was not comfortable being a critical person,” said Yu.

But while studying finance at the University of Toronto, she mustered the moxie to push back on a professor who blamed the market collapse in 2008 on the actions of the Federal Reserve. Determined to seek out answers for herself, she pursued economics and earned her PhD from Boston University.

“I’m glad I was able to criticize something I was told and turn that into a profession,” Yu said.

She started her teaching career at New College and never left. Yu embraced its educational model that attracts curious thinkers and measures student performance with narrative evaluations rather than grades. She says an environment where students are free to study what they wish fosters the kind of critical thinking it took her years to embrace and express. Earlier this year, Yu and colleague Tarron Khemraj had inflation research published in the Eastern Economic Journal, a feat rarely accomplished in liberal arts schools.

“Every discipline should be appreciated, we value that as a society,” said Yu.

Yu is glad to find more of balance in viewpoints among her students. She sees a bright future ahead for the school and a rewarding experience for students who are choosing the course of study she also happens to love.