ATLANTA — Shortly after earning his Ph.D., economist Nicholas Wright moved to Fort Myers, Florida, to accept a Florida Gulf Coast University faculty appointment in the Lutgert College of Business. He quickly realized an inconsistency in the courses offered to students when juxtaposed with their seeming lack of awareness of poverty in the area.
“When you look around in southwest Florida, you don’t see issues of poverty being upfront as much,” he said. “It is noticeable in somewhere like Atlanta. You don’t really see that here in southwest Florida.”
Wright, in understanding his economics students were not being exposed to the nation’s many social problems nor the public programs that address them, felt compelled to petition his department chair. He asked to create a course that would introduce students to the subject of poverty and grant them an opportunity to view it through an economic policy lens. Pulling from his own experience, Wright felt it necessary that students be exposed to discussions of poverty and able to evaluate its inherent and dire social implications critically.
“For many of these students, the course would be an introduction to issues they may not have thought of before. For me, it’s a great feeling they’re now thinking about the issues the country is dealing with.”
Wright’s drive is a result of experience and passion. Raised in a low-income community in Jamaica, Wright is familiar with the social issues he strives to illuminate. His spark ignited in the Spring of 2017 when, as a doctoral student, he taught “The Economics of Poverty and Public Policy” at the Andrew Young School.
“I realized there was no course here that covered the core topics taught in that course. And I decided, with the chair’s approval, it was something that would benefit our students.”
Wright’s course has become popular for providing innovative instruction on socio-economic problems. To his surprise and joy, the department will take steps to make “The Economics of Poverty and Public Policy” a permanent course in their catalog.
Not coincidentally, the rigorous nature of the course aligns with Wright’s recent articles in the Journal of Development Economics, Journal of Labor Economics and his accomplishments as a recipient of the National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship.
“I decided to focus on education because of the role education played in my life,” he said. “I am from a poor, rural community in Jamaica. Growing up, I couldn’t afford many things. My dad really had a love for education, and he spared no expense in making sure that I had the same appreciation for it.”
Wright aims to share his affinity for education with his students by emulating and cultivating the warm atmosphere he encountered at Georgia State with his students and his dissertation chair Tom Mroz.
“I can say, without reservation, that the impactful and supportive guidance of Dr. Mroz was pivotal to my success. If I can motivate one student each semester to fall in love with economics the same way I was motivated, then that is a success in my mind.”
Story by Victoria Bowden, M.P.P. (Social and Nonprofit Policy) Candidate