#BaylorLights Profile: Dr. Tisha Emerson

July 24, 2018
#BaylorLights: Dr. Tisha Emerson
Putting a price on what someone is willing to pay to protect or improve the environment is a focus for Dr. Tisha Emerson, the Ben H. Williams Professor of Economics. She is also known for integrating research in the classroom as a way to help her students learn.

Last spring she taught for the Semester at Sea program, a 100-day voyage on a shipboard campus that travels around the world. She often looks at economics through the lens of the contingent valuation method (CVM), an economic tool that uses surveys to place a value on non-market resources like environmental management. These are amenities that aren't bought and sold and are often difficult to put a price tag on.

While at sea, her students from around the world decided to focus on one amenity in particular. They wanted to find out whether there was support for an initiative to offset the carbon footprint of the Semester at Sea ship.

"I asked them all to submit a proposal for the topic we would study that would somehow be related to the ship," she said. Students then undertook a study to learn more about the CVM method through practice. Not only did they learn about surveys, data collection and the methodology, but they learned about group decision-making and consensus building.

The survey asked if students would be willing to offset the ship's carbon footprint caused by greenhouse gases during the voyage by 10 percent and pay an additional $80. Ultimately, students found significant support for the proposed initiative.

Back on the Baylor campus, this semester Emerson's Environmental Economics class focused on the Lake Waco Wetlands, an area that provides fishing and trails for families, a habitat for migratory birds, education for students and a water filtration system. "These aren't things that are sold on a market, so it's not possible to go and say, 'What is the price that we're charging for these different amenities,'" said Emerson.

Students developed a survey based on CVM and asked Waco residents if they'd be willing to pay an additional five dollars a year in taxes to support the Wetlands. Nearly 80 percent of the sample, including people who weren't even aware of the Wetlands, agreed that they'd be in support.

Emerson's own research is focused on economic education and environmental economics. Topics have included cooperative learning and why women are underrepresented in economics. Her first published research on economic education was one of her most significant, positively impacting her field.

"We were able to demonstrate that students who were exposed to a pedagogy using classroom experiments learned more than those in a standard, what we call chalk-and-talk, lecture approach," said Emerson.

Typically in economic education, Emerson said, other scholars read the work and apply it, but don't cite it because additional research studies don't build on the research. This time was different. "I know for that piece that we have made a real impact on how other people around the world teach their classes," she said.

Former student Megan Rapp, BA '07, now a Senior Development Finance Advisor for the United States Agency for International Development focused on helping partner countries with self-reliance, said Emerson represents the best in education. "In challenging her students to think critically and robustly about issues in economics, she does so herself, and I've seen her embark on multiple self-learning pursuits, which only make her a better educator."

"The light of Dr. Emerson is bright because it radiates from inside of her," added Rapp. "She is an outstanding role model, especially for women in economics and always encourages me to pursue my goals."

Emerson said only 30 percent of students earning a bachelor's in economics are female. She is the second woman to receive tenure in her department and the first to make full professor. She recognizes the huge responsibility when students look to her as a mentor.

"I don't really know that the Lord is shining through me in any way. Maybe this is just that I'm being blessed. … If the Lord can use me in any way, then that would just be another blessing for me," said Emerson.
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