'State of Mind' dispatch by Rodney Hughes '07 Lib, University Trustee

(Editor’s note: Schreyer Scholar Alumnus Rodney Hughes ‘07 Lib will be periodically posting his “State of Mind” dispatch, a series in which he will reflect upon his insider’s view of the workings of Penn State as the student representative to the University’s Board of Trustees. Rodney, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in economics at the University, was named to the board by Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell in 2008. With the launch of Rodney’s first “State of Mind” entry, you’ll also find a profile of Rodney written by Nicole Arias ‘08 Com, a former public relations intern in the Schreyer Honors College’s College Relations Office.)

What a quick six months. My name is Rodney Hughes, and I graduated from Penn State and the Schreyer Honors College in 2007 with a B.S. and Honors in Economics. Just over six months ago, on July 1, 2008, I began a term as Penn State’s student trustee.

The Governor of Pennsylvania appoints six trustees to Penn State’s Board of Trustees, the governing body of the university. Traditionally, since the early 1970s, one appointment has gone to a current student. As a senior at Penn State, I decided to pursue graduate study in economics in light of my interests in teaching, policy-related research, and university service. The strength of Penn State’s faculty, particularly in international trade, lured me to stay for my doctoral studies. Thus, when I read about the student trustee position in The Daily Collegian as a first-year doctoral student, I knew I could serve the entire three-year term as a University Park student. I also thought my economics background and undergraduate involvement with student government and the Honors College would prepare me well for the position, so I submitted an application.

After a couple interviews and a lot of waiting, I learned my application had been a success. My predecessor’s term expired on June 30, so on July 1, I joined Penn State’s Board of Trustees. Just about two weeks after that, I traveled to Penn State Erie, the Behrend College, with two trustees and two student leaders for my first meeting as a board member. I found and still find the issues facing the board to be complex and compelling, and I enjoyed meeting the talented and personable individuals who serve on the board. I still remember the REDC, Penn State Behrend’s Research and Economic Development Center, housing engineering and business students and faculty in one facility, and I look forward to visiting other campuses around the commonwealth.

Around the same time, I began teaching a course on international trade during Penn State’s second summer session. I had been interested in trade issues since taking Dr. Bee Roberts’ Econ 002H course during my first semester as an undergraduate, and I had long looked forward to teaching. I had served as a grader as an undergraduate and as a recitation leader as a first-year graduate student, but this was my first chance to “run the show” by myself. While writing lecture notes and assignments required a great investment of time, I enjoyed the chance to relate elements of trade theory to contemporary policy debates, and I always enjoy interacting with students. While trade issues can be socially and politically sensitive, I advised my students that good economics can reveal objectively the expected winners and losers from a given policy; determining the right policy from there should draw on perspectives from ethics, political science, often science and engineering, and other relevant disciplines. Incidentally, near the end of my course, I assigned an article called “Is Free Trade Passé?” by Paul Krugman. This paper is the primary example I know of an application of game theory to international trade, a great interest of mine and a prominent component of my Schreyer honors thesis. Soon after my course ended, Krugman won a Nobel Prize for his work on international trade theory, albeit mainly for his insight on trade in differentiated varieties of products.

While I had an eventful summer, the fall semester brought new academic challenges and new experiences with the board. As a state-related university, Penn State is especially sensitive to economic conditions, so recent times have called for even greater self-awareness and forward thinking. Personally, I am looking forward to growing and improving as a trustee and a graduate student, and I am confident these experiences will reinforce each other. At the same time, I look forward to contributing to this forum! You can always reach me by e-mail at rph144@psu.edu.

Last Updated November 18, 2010