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Nathan Sivers BoyceNathan Sivers Boyce

Nathan Sivers Boyce

Economics Professor Nathan Sivers Boyce believes he can trace the origins of his desire to teach back to the age of 6 or 7, when he read The Once and Future King for the first time with his father.

"I listened awestruck as Merlin changed Wart (the young King Arthur) into a badger, a fish and a hawk so that he might learn what he could from each form," recalls Boyce. "Granted, at the time I was more excited by the possibility of my turning into a bear or some other animal than I was moved by Merlin's revolutionary pedagogical techniques, but a seed was planted."

Sivers Boyce has returned to this part of the book many times and found a vision that inspires him to be a teacher while providing him with some thoughts about how to be a good one.

Born and raised in Berea, Ky., Sivers Boyce's interest in teaching was cultivated by his parents, who were both professors at Berea College. "I remember thinking, 'I really like the college environment,'" he says. "That impression stayed with me."

During his formative years, he also realized a deep connection to nature - in particular, the woods of central Kentucky. There was never a crystallizing experience that compelled him to study the environment, but he suspected that environmental economics eventually would become the focus of his research activities and his teaching.

As an undergraduate at Earlham College in the early 1990s, Sivers Boyce completed degrees in math and religion. He went on to attend graduate school at Stanford University's Engineering Systems Department. He knew he didn't want to be a mathematician, but he did want to use math to find solutions to the environmental policy problems that affected everyone.

Environmental problems - global warming, ozone depletion, ocean pollution - are often international in scope, and solutions require not only an international effort, but also an understanding of the global economy. "My work explores the economic forces that help determine the nature of international environmental agreements (IEAs)," says Sivers Boyce. "In particular, I analyze the role of international trade in determining the composition and effectiveness of an IEA."

Sivers Boyce has been at Willamette since 2002, teaching Principles of Microeconomics, Econometrics and Environmental Economics. And he points out that the significance of economic analyses in environmental problems can be illustrated right on campus. Willamette University covers 71 acres of land, but about 20,000 acres are necessary to support its current consumption habits at an ongoing rate. This projection, called an "ecological footprint," was developed by Sivers Boyce's Environmental Economics class.

"Environmental issues seem like the binding constraints of our time," says Sivers Boyce. "In economics, we can develop modeling tools and apply them to environmental problems."

Sivers Boyce hopes that economics will enable students to apply and expand upon the set of tools they develop in various courses. He also expects that the knowledge of the economic side of real-world problems will help students develop a sense of civic responsibility and engagement in their immediate community.

"I try to share with students the process of identifying issues, and I push them to engage in that process for themselves," says Sivers Boyce. "I really like our conversations and the challenges I'm presented with, especially working with students who don't necessarily take for granted the importance or significance of economics."