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Exploring Frontier Economics in Alaska, by IFREE Alumni Kyle Hampton

Over the years, IFREE has had a big influence on my education and my career. My newest position is Director of the Alaska Center for Economic Education, and Assistant Professor, at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

I came to Alaska because I want to do “frontier economics.” Alaska is a resource-centered economy, one deeply invested in the growth of international trade and the emergence of developing economies. In many ways, the economic and political decisions of Alaskans have a disproportionate resonance over the rest of the planet.

Alaskans are stewards of incredible natural wealth - and not just in the form simplest to exploit. Along with salmon, oil, coal, timber, and minerals, Alaska is home to some of the wildest beauty on earth. The delicate and difficult balancing act this entails is at the heart of frontier economics and constitutes an economic dialogue in which I cannot wait to participate.

As ACEE Director, I am inheriting a great organization dedicated to providing Alaskans the economic understanding they need to participate in this state’s development. The Center is supported by both the University of Alaska Anchorage and the Alaska Council for Economic Education, along with corporate underwriting from several companies and organizations that call Alaska home. Some of the projects we support include:

  • Training programs for K-12 teachers interested in teaching economics classes or integrating economic principles into other classes they teach.
  • Distribution of curriculum materials to aid economics teachers around the state.
  • Exciting programs for economic students to interact with others around the state including the Stock Market Game, summer workshops for students gifted in economics, and the “Economics Challenge,” a quiz show for fifth and sixth graders to demonstrate their knowledge of economic concepts.
  • The development of state and local curriculum standards that incorporate economic modules and courses.

With this collection of great projects and a well-connected network of motivated and talented educators, lies even greater potential. I am a big believer in the power of experiments to illuminate topics and excite students. The ACEE is dedicated to spreading the use of economic experiments to classroom throughout the state.

I was first exposed to the educational potential of experiments when I assisted Bart Wilson in running the IFREE-funded Vernon L. Smith High School Workshops in Experimental Economics as a graduate student at the University of Arizona. The workshops have evolved each year since then and have been an inspiration for hundreds of participants and the impetus for several of them to pursue a career in the discipline. This past summer, for the first time, I took over the role of Director of the IFREE-sponsored workshops. Despite the passage of many years, I still get goose bumps watching ideas come to life for students who are engaging economics in a hands-on way.

A major goal for the ACEE is deploying experimental economics software and know-how to educators all over the state so that Alaska might serve as a large-scale demonstration of the important role experiments can serve in teaching economics. A perfect goal for a frontier state: experimenting with experiments.

None of this would be possible without the people who support IFREE. I am grateful to those who earmark their contributions for education and outreach support. Software, lesson plans, and learning modules that were created for a single one-week workshop years ago have spread around the country and are evolving to form the basis for an entirely new way students are exposed to economic ideas.

Besides attendance and teaching participation at several IFREE-sponsored workshops I also benefitted from IFREE pre-doctoral support as a graduate student at George Mason University. IFREE has thus played an indirect, but pivotal role in the development of a world class center for experimental economic research and economic education here in the last frontier.

IFREE was an early supporter of the UAA Experimental Economics program. A $20,000 grant in 2006 made to the economics program in the college of business and public policy helped the program get started. The funds provided student assistants and participant payments that allowed the faculty new to the experimental approach to learn by 'just doing it' as Vernon has suggested. Valuable lessons were learned about designing and conducting experiments. Since that time the program has grown, hiring three experimentalists, attracting external as well as university funding, and publishing research results. IFREE's early support provided a foundation for the growth of the UAA program. More can be learned about the UAA experimental program at http://econlab.uaa.alaska.edu/. – Lee Huskey, Department of Economics, UAA.

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