By Katie Williamson
Economics is not a particularly flashy subject for undergraduate students. Without the flare of a Bunsen burner or twist of an eloquent phrase, the subject has a somewhat limited appeal, but Dr. Yan Li has taken the challenge of teaching this difficult subject and tackled it head on.
“When everyone talks about economics or mathematics people think of it as a very dismal or cheerless subject, so we call it a dismal science,” said Dr. Li. “Because people say that economics is not interesting, to be a very effective teacher, you have to create some interest for that subject to make students want to learn economics.”
Dr. Li has been teaching Microeconomics to undergraduates for six years and has made it her goal to have every student relate to the subject and learn from her class. She begins by memorizing the names and faces of all 90 plus students in her class before the first day of the semester. Because of her phenomenal efforts as a passionate and effective teacher, she was selected by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning as the recipient of the 2015 Graduate Instructor Excellence in Teaching Award during the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony in May.
“I am exceedingly happy. To be very honest, I am surprised because English is not my mother tongue. I speak Chinese, it is my first language and I know that a lot of graduate instructors are native speakers and they speak very well and they are great instructors as well. I never thought as an international graduate student I could be the recipient of this award. I have lots of people to thank for this,” said Dr. Li.
One of her students wrote “Ms. Li’s Microeconomics class was my first experience with economics and needless to say I was very nervous. However, after the first few moments in class, she immediately engaged the students with humor, putting the entire class at ease. She related economics to our lives as students, both academically and socially, in a witty and easily understandable way.”
“I think teaching is not just an instructor standing in front of a classroom and talking and talking and talking with students just silently sitting there receiving and receiving. That’s not an effective way for teaching. I always tell my students that the art of teaching is communicating,” said Dr. Li.
After 11 years of research as an undergraduate, master’s and doctoral student, Dr. Li is graduating with a Ph.D. in Economics and has multiple job offers. She said she wants to be able to use her degree to change the world and help the next generation succeed.