Shengnan Fang: An understanding of economics beneficial in everyday life
“Economics is everywhere!” said Shengnan Fang, a faculty member in the Business Management Department of Linn-Benton Community College.
Fang hopes to demonstrate how a basic understanding of economics is beneficial for anyone. In class, she will point out the inflation rate in the news and talk about the Federal Reserve and government policies. “I work with my students to help them understand how economics affects their everyday lives. That makes me feel fulfilled.”
Most of the students that Fang teaches are not economics majors. Her introductory classes in mico- and macroeconomics are often mandatory for other majors. “Many of my students have no interest in economics when we start, they just want to pass the class and move on. I hope that after they finish my class, they will have an interest in economics,” she said.
Her students are diverse, ranging from high schoolers taking classes for college credit to adult learners taking noncredit courses for personal development or business reasons. And since her courses are foundational for many STEM and business fields, the students she teaches come from across the college.
Fang gets to know them and their interests through discussions and surveys so that she can cater her teaching to her learners. For many of the non-majors, economics can be intimidating. Fang works to address their fears and anxieties about the course material from the start.
“In the beginning many of my students were worried because economics seems to use a lot of mathematics and graphs,” said Fang. “I say ‘If you can do addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division it's enough. If you can draw a straight line and a curve, it's enough’. I hope to eliminate their concerns.”
Fang grew up on a small island in China. She completed a master’s degree in economics in China, and then worked in a Chinese college prior to coming to the United States for her PhD in economics.
“The U.S. has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, which was really attractive for economics research,” she said. “It's one of the major reasons I applied for grad schools in the U.S. I wanted to see the difference.”
Upon completion of her doctoral dissertation at Kansas State University, the five years of “too hot” summers and “really cold” winters had her looking for a teaching job in a new location. She found her current position at LBCC.
“Location was first, and Oregon is much more like my hometown. The temperature is very similar and it's easier to go to the beach,” she said. “But I also found that I like teaching at a two-year college. It’s totally different. I have more of an opportunity to interact with students and monitor their academic performance because my average class size is only 30 to 35 students.”
Smaller class sizes allow Fang to respond to student feedback and to customize her teaching.
Take, for example, the pandemic. “We talked about households living in poverty … the household might buy only essential goods, like potatoes. But with the stimulus paychecks, would the household change its consumption habits, like buying fewer potatoes but buying other goods? It was a good moment to teach students.”
Fang surveyed her students and found that the students who received stimulus checks did modify their consumption behaviors.
With the knowledge that some of her students will become small business owners, Fang addresses how economics is beneficial for small business. “It is helpful for them to know about demand and supply models, consumer demand, pricing elasticity,” she said. “If you're going to lower your price and give a bigger discount, how can you best increase revenue? Does the increased quantity compensate for the price reduction?”
In addition to the introductory courses, Fang teaches a business quantitative methods course, which is one of the more challenging courses in her department.
“Students struggle, and especially during online courses,” she said. “So I record mini video lectures to show them concepts and practice questions. I survey students for feedback and modify my videos based on their feedback. It has been very helpful, especially for the students who are visual learners.”
Fang has settled in at LBCC and lives with her lovely family in Corvallis. At the college, she volunteers to help international students—especially those from her home country—to overcome the stress of leaving home and studying in a new environment.
Fang hopes to bring more international students to the college.
“I hope I can encourage more Chinese students to study at LBCC,” Fang said. “It is cost effective and beneficial for international students, and it's a good way to bring different cultural perspectives to LBCC.”
Learn more about Economics at Linn-Benton Community College.