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Morris professor Pareena Lawrence

Pareena Lawrence, associate professor of economics and management, Morris.

Making economics fun

Morris faculty member is one of the U's top 15 teachers for 2006

Brief, April 5, 2006

For three weeks last December, 21 students traveled from snowy Morris, Minnesota, to sunny India, the country where their professor, Pareena Lawrence, grew up.

The class was called Globalization: Examining India's Social and Economic Development. Together they studied the impact of globalization on urban and rural areas, but they also saw that it has barely touched vast portions of India's population of more than 1 billion people. The course was the first study abroad trip Lawrence has led, and she can't wait to do it again. "From this small, rural community of Morris, our students are going out to experience the emerging nations of the world," says Lawrence. "For me, the India trip was amazing--taking a step back and looking at my country through the students' eyes."



Monday, April 24
McNamara Alumni Center
3:30-6 p.m.
Registration is requested.
Distinguished Teaching Awards, UMAA

Morse-Alumni Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education

* Frederick Asher
, art history
* Mark Distefano, chemistry
* Pareena Lawrence, economics/management, Morris
* James Leger, electrical and computer engineering
* Donald Liu, applied economics
* Randy Moore, biology, General College
* Marshall Stern, animal science
* Barbara Welke, history

Outstanding Contributions to Postbaccalaureate, Graduate, and Professional Education Award

* Dennis Falk
, social work, Duluth
* Joan Garfield, educational psychology
* Wendy Hellerstedt, epidemiology
* Richard Leppert, cultural studies and comparative literature
* Deborah Levison, public affairs
* Jean O'Brien, history
* Michel Sanders, biochemistry, molecular biology, and biophysics

Recipients teach on the Twin Cities campus except as noted.

Lawrence, associate professor of economics and management, is one of 15 recipients of the University's highest recognition of teaching excellence. The awards consider classroom teaching as well as creative activities, advising, research, academic program development, and educational leadership. The 2006 award winners will be honored in a ceremony April 24 at the McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis. (See box.)

Lawrence sees study abroad as a core element of a liberal arts education, for which the University's campus in Morris has a national reputation.

Fundamental to Lawrence's teaching technique are daily assignments at the end of each class period. The assignment--which might involve a group activity, a problem-solving exercise, discussions, simulations, or a service-learning project--provides an immediate opportunity to apply concepts presented in lecture. While the students work on their assignments, Lawrence circulates within the room, helping them informally, one to one. And she keeps it fun.

"I teach some of the driest courses in economics," she says. "It is very important that we have fun!"

Lawrence delights when students can connect with the study of economics, understand what it explains or models, and see how the assumptions of a model may lead to certain outcomes. Economics is an exciting and evolving field, she says, and she looks for ways to involve her students in service learning and research.

In an econometrics class, for example, Lawrence's students developed a survey to assess the on-campus Regional Fitness Center and analyzed the resulting data. Then her marketing class conducted focus groups with community members and leaders, researched similar fitness centers across the region, and developed a marketing plan for the center.

It was a good example of how service learning works and also reinforced one of Lawrence's deep convictions.

"You can't live in isolation," she says. "Others have underwritten your education and contributed to your success--your community, state, and your country--and you have benefited. Service learning instills the idea of giving back."

Lawrence advised another student to conduct a research project based on a trip to Ecuador and urged her to present her paper at a conference. "Government Intervention in Street Vending Activities in Guayaquil, Ecuador: A Case Study of Vendors in the Municipal Markets," coauthored by Lawrence and Sandra Castro-Peterson, '05, will be published in this month's issue of the Mexican journal Problemas del Desarrollo.

In the classroom, Lawrence shares stories about herself and alumni she has taught over the years. She reminds her students that, even though she is a professor now, not everything came easily to her, either, as an undergraduate at the University of Delhi or in graduate school at Purdue.

It wasn't until her studies at Purdue that Lawrence, with aspirations to work for the World Bank in western Africa, discovered her gift for teaching.

"I also tell students about others who bitterly complained about the difficulty of my classes," she says. "In their professional work or in grad school, those same students e-mail me saying, 'I am so well prepared, thank you for driving us crazy!'" Lawrence joined the Morris faculty in 1994 and values its interdisciplinary environment, where economics research often overlaps with disciplines like political science, statistics, and sociology. Morris has also proved to be a great environment for her growing family, where her sons, now 9 and 6, are familiar on campus, and her students come for dinner--though, she cautions, they laugh at her culinary skills because most of the food on the table is cooked by Sara Lee and other corporate brands.

"UMM is an amazing place and I am truly blessed to be in this community," Lawrence says. "It is like a big family here."

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