Professor Profile: Brian Scott

Photo courtesy of Hilary Badger.

By Sarah Roy

Elm Staff Writer

The genesis of Professor Brian Scott’s lifetime interest began, as most lifetime interests do, with no interest in the subject.

Assistant Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Scott began his career path as an undergraduate of Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, a private liberal arts institution boasting roughly 2,000 students: a cozy portrait similar to Washington College.  Afterwards he attended the University of Illinois to earn his Ph.D. in Economics.  In between that time, Scott worked in banking for six years, three of which were devoted to managing a branch bank, the remainder spent in Chicago as a Northern Trust consulting agent.

Needless to say, he has since vacated himself from those industries to delve into two new fields.  His roots were planted in those unintentionally profound situations we stumble upon at a particular point in our education.

“Not unlike freshmen every year, I was trying to fill out my schedule.  I couldn’t get into a couple classes that I wanted to, and had to choose something.  I chose economics because it would count towards a business major, and that’s what I thought I was going to be,” he said.

From that point on, Scott was smitten.

“My first economics class I really loved.  I decided to get my Econ. degree in undergrad then went off into banking and didn’t enjoy it much.  So I thought, ‘What am I good at?  What should I be doing?’”

Two very legitimate reflections we all undergo at one point or another, perhaps with a bit of inner deliberation.  But for Scott, the answer was clear.

“I went back and got the Economics degree.”

Now Scott is a devotee of his selected field, dabbling behind the scenes and teaching in front of the curtain in microeconomics, environmental economics, natural resource economics, and the uniquely inquiring turf of experimental economics.

He hasn’t forgotten his experiences handling mass amounts of currency, though: Scott’s prioritized focus rests on the most fiscal yet effective method of reducing carbon and pollution as a whole.

“Right now my research is looking at carbon sequestration, or carbon reduction – the cheapest way to do that.  I’m looking at whether we should concentrate on specific industries and what types of government policies, whether it be taxes, a tradable permits type of market, or just strict government regulation.  I’m also looking at how we might capture carbon in the soil, or rather, what kind of markets we would need to help promote or support farmers collecting carbon in the ground or reducing greenhouse gases from livestock . . . basically methane,” Scott said. And his exploits didn’t stop there. Scott has examined the use of wetlands as water filters to draw out nitrogen, and elaborated on where his body of knowledge lies and how he enacts it: “I was focusing on the public policy that would be associated with it. I don’t know anything about nitrogen or wetlands—that’s for the chemists—but I do know how to bring it into the program.”

As for his experiences amidst the campus and educating WC students, Scott says he’s pleased. “I do enjoy it. I’ve taught at University of Chicago, University of Alabama in Birmingham, and Dominican University. The students here are very intelligent, engaged, and I really have a good time with them. I can get to know the students and it’s enjoyable to just go to class and have discussions, whereas at other schools, you don’t get that: their students aren’t as well prepared as students that come here and are a little more serious.”

Scott’s concentration in the uncommon ground of experimental economics is another fascinating outcome of an unexpected development. As an example of his

studies that ask and research surprising questions, Scott said: “I look at volunteerism and forced volunteerism, the requirement to do community service hours. The question is, if we force students to volunteer, does that reduce their volunteerism later in life? If you force someone to volunteer or you put some minimum volunteerism on that person, it actually reduces their voluntary contribution. As it turns out, it could be that people volunteer and now they’re satisfied – they’ve done that in their life and they don’t need to do it again, they hated it, or they feel they’ve paid their due. We don’t know the exact reasons, but that’s another thing.” Scott chuckles over the startling psychological implications of this societal testing with a frank, “It’s weird, man.” As for future projects, Scott said he is on junior faculty leave next semester and will be investigating and strengthening his exploration of the carbon sequestration project. “Hopefully I’ll be able to bring the research into the classroom and run experiments with my students,” he said. A final morsel for your Professor Scott trivia: “The only other weird thing students know about me is that I bike to school almost every day. Don’t run me over,” he concluded with a laugh.

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