My name is Bill Barnes and I am an associate professor of economics at the University of Portland’s Pamplin School of Business, with a concurrent appointment in the Department of Environmental Science. I earned my PhD in economics at the University of Notre Dame. My research interests include barriers and pathways to clean technology and sustainable work systems, performance outcomes associated with CSR and sustainability, energy and climate change education, and comparative economic institutions.
I teach principles of micro and macroeconomics, environmental economics, and comparative economics in the undergraduate programs. At the graduate level, I teach economics and metrics for sustainability.
So how did I get here? As an undergraduate, I started as an engineering major, but I realized over time that I was interested in social science related problems. Economics is a great fit for me because it requires math and analytical skills like in engineering, but it is incredibly useful for policy work and solving big picture social problems (like stimulating the entire economy in a recession, or designing ways to encourage consumers to buy cleaner and greener products).
As a professor, I enjoy teaching a discipline that can help students build skills that can be useful as we all continue to try to improve our world. Lately, much of my energy is focused on solutions to the climate change problem, which is about our biggest “Big Picture” problem out there. To that end, I recently spearheaded the creation of a minor in sustainability for undergraduates at the University of Portland, as well as a concentration in sustainability for the MBAs.
In my early 20s, I spent three years teaching English in Japan. It was one of the best decisions of my life, because it got me out of the box and made me realize just how important “culture” is in determining one’s world view. I generally go on study abroad programs whenever asked – I have been to London, Vietnam, Greece, and Japan with students. The Japanese trip was through UP’s Sophia University connection, and was centered in Tokyo, a city that everyone has to visit at least once in their lifetimes. It’s the world’s biggest city by a long shot, and it’s mind-blowing.
I went with the E-scholars to Vietnam twice. I think the E-scholars program cultivates creativity, fortitude and the ability to deal with ambiguity. Successful entrepreneurs are tough, and they know how to learn from failure, which is more the rule than the exception. (Take notes as you fall flat on your face! Don’t let adversity or failure defeat you – learn from it and do it better the next time!) Our program cultivates this fearlessness and this ability to learn in real time – and this is something that all students need if they are going to be successful in a rapidly changing world.
What is going to make you successful in your field of study? I think the notion of “following your bliss” or “doing what you love” can be a bit misleading for young adults, particularly if you are prone to overestimating your capabilities. A big part of the challenge in life is having the grit and the discipline to build up core skills that are valuable to others. You want to find a field/ discipline that is both interesting to you but that will also pay the bills, and so you actually do want to keep “supply and demand” for the field you are interested in in mind. (Don’t go into buggy making!)
And, it often takes time to get to the point where your chosen discipline is interesting and empowering; you have to pay your dues for a while before you gain “fluency” in your field. A key part of success is your attitude; if an employer/ boss senses entitlement, or that you are easily frustrated, or not that you are not that eager to learn, this can cause difficulties. Be patient, be eager and curious, show up for duty, (always) learn like crazy, and realize that things often get better, and more interesting, as you build up skills and experience!
Speaking of interests, I love photography, and telling stories with pictures, and when I was younger I entertained the idea of being a photojournalist. I am into good food, which is an easy thing to be into in this amazing “foodie” town, and I have a bit of an infatuation with Japanese food. I am still on a quest for the perfect bowl of ramen in Portland – send me your recs and I’ll send you mine!
I co-own a 25-foot sailboat on the Columbia River with Mark Meckler, also in our business school, and I love to go out on the river on those hot Portland summer days (where it is cooler, and fun!). I am lucky to have a great family – including a frisky nine-year-old boy (Scott), and a playful four-year-old girl (Tessa). Julie, my wife, is a school psychologist by day and a Cirque Du Soleil-style aerial dancer by evening/ weekend. In her alternative life, she might have been a circus performer – it’s pretty amazing to see her dropping from fabric from 20 feet in the air with a huge smile on her face.
Now if I was going to give my 20-year-old self some advice, it would be to skip the engineering school, and go to the very best liberal arts institution you can get into where you can learn to think, write, and reason, and where you can easily get to know your professors if you show interest. You had the right idea by the end, but it took you a while. Otherwise, keep the 3 year Japan excursion, keep listening to your gut on what you want to do, keep taking calculated risks, and good job on waiting to find the right partner in life!