Interview with Professor Diep Phan

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by Linh T Dieu Nguyen’20

Professor Diep Phan is an associate professor of Economics and the Coleman Foundation Chair in Entrepreneurship. She has been teaching in the Economics department at Beloit for eight years, and she also works in CELEB mentoring students who are looking to start their own  business. Dr. Phan encourages all students and community members to consider attending some of the upcoming events during the Miller Upton Forum, taking place Tuesday, October 24 through Friday, October 27. As Dr. Phan says, Beloit is a place that encourages students to “ponder big questions,” and visiting Upton speakers are famous scholars who are dedicating their lives to doing just that. 

WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE ECONOMICS AS A DISCIPLINE TO STUDY AND TEACH? 

I was interested in Economics at a very young age, thanks to my father. He developed an interest in market theories when Vietnam (where I am from) started to reform in the early 1990s. However, among his friends, there was no one who could understand those theories, so he ended up talking to me about them. I got interested immediately, and when I went to Macalester College for undergraduate study, the very first class that I signed up [for] was Principles of Economics. Everything was intuitive for me, and I loved it very much. So I just kept going.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT TEACHING AT BELOIT? 

I love seeing my students learn. I remember in my Economics of Globalization class—a very discussion-based class— I would have students debate a lot on the controversies around globalization. I remember leaving the class and felt very excited because students did such a good job in the debate, which shows their passion for learning.

DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR STUDYING ECONOMICS WELL? 

Economics is a very analytical field, so if you’re good at thinking analytically, it would be an advantage. If you do well in Calculus, it would also be a good indicator. But that’s just for learning economic theories. Students should also read the news and see how economics is applied in real life.

COULD YOU BRIEFLY EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENCES AMONG THE THREE TRACKS IN THE ECONOMICS DEPARTMENT AT BELOIT? DO YOU TEACH CLASSES IN ALL THREE AREAS? 

The first major is Business Economics, which is created for students who want to have business careers in private sectors, often immediately after they graduate from Beloit. They have to take Accounting and Finance. For the extra-departmental electives, we encourage Business Econ majors to take any courses in any departments that may serve their future business careers. This major is flexible.

For the Economics major, we design it for students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in Economics, and the main difference is they need to take more math. The last one is International Political Economy (IPE), for students who are not only interested in Economics but also in international issues. They will need to take international courses— both in the Economics department and in other departments.

I teach Principles [of Economics], which serves all three tracks. I teach Accounting and Entrepreneurship, which serves the Business track. I also teach International Trade & Finance and Economics of Globalization, which counts toward the IPE track.

I NOTICE THAT YOUR FACULTY PROFILE ONLINE LISTS YOU AS THE “COLEMAN CHAIR.” COULD YOU TELL ME WHAT THAT MEANS? 

I am the Coleman Foundation Chair of Entrepreneurship. I work with Brian Morello, the  director of CELEB (Center for Entrepreneurship & Liberal Education at Beloit). [Together, we serve] as academic advisors and mentors for students [who are] interested in starting a business. This business could be something in the future, not necessarily during their time here. If students are interested in something non-profit, Brian and I could also help with their ventures.

Students can come to me and/or Brian no matter what stage they are in—whether they are trying to generate ideas, shape those ideas into a viable business model, or trying to finance or network with the right people, etc.  

I KNOW THAT THE UPTON FORUM IS COMING UP SOON. COULD YOU GIVE ME A BRIEF SUMMARY OF WHAT THE PROGRAM IS AND WHY STUDENTS SHOULD  CONSIDER ATTENDING? 

This is a program sponsored by the Miller Upton Endowments that brings to campus an internationally recognized expert, whose ideas and works further our understanding of the wealth and well-being of nations. In addition to the keynote address by the Upton Scholar, there are several discussions around the same topic during that week.

This year’s topic is Energy and features the main speaker, Michael Greenstone—an Economist on Energy Policy from the University of Chicago. On Tuesday night (10/24), there will be a performance on “Comedy, Economics and Climate Change” by Yoram Bauman. On Thursday (10/26), there will be a panel discussion on “Scaling Lo-Carbon Energy for the Developing and Developed World.” On Friday (10/27), there will be a luncheon and discussion panel about the ideas and influences of Michael Greenstone, [as well as a] keynote address that night.

These events are open to everyone, so I encourage both students and community members to come. These speakers are all famous thinkers, who have dedicated their lives to answering big questions, and at Beloit, we try to encourage students to ponder big questions. When students read about the works of these thinkers, they may think “these people are far away,” but [when they’re on campus], students will realize they are just normal human beings who like to think— and who do that very well. I think these programs could be a great source of inspiration for students, and one way to take advantage of the Upton events is to read blogs by these scholars to briefly understand what their ideas are prior to attending the Upton events.