Dr. Uchechukwu Jarrett, assistant professor of practice in economics at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business, never planned to leave his home country of Nigeria. After a victory at a mathematics competition, he journeyed to the U.S. to learn more about making a transformational change in teaching methods.
“Three other people and I were chosen to represent our university for a mathematics competition for the entire country of Nigeria. We went to the state capital with a whole group of students from different universities and we won. However, it's not something I'm proud of,” he lamented. “The highest score was 64 out of 240. That showed me there was a significant lack of understanding. I realized the way I learned certain things, I knew the technical parts of it, but not the intuitive parts of it.”
Because the exam was based on testing done in the U.S., Jarrett looked to universities there to further his education and became a Ph.D. student in economics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. With only an undergraduate degree in mathematics and statistics, he faced the challenge of teaching a subject he knew nothing about.
“I had no idea about anything in economics. I remember the very first time I had to lead a recitation session. I had just gone to a class, absorbed new information, and then had to regurgitate that information in a way people understood 10 minutes later during a review session that happened immediately after the class. Luckily for me, it was the principles of microeconomics course and my math background really did help,” he explained.
During his time at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Jarrett impressed many of the faculty and students with his teaching. His notable teaching methods earned him the William L. Holahan Prize for Outstanding Teaching by a Graduate Student. Dr. John Heywood, a distinguished professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, credited Jarrett with his ability to explain a topic like economics in an easy to learn manner.
“When Uche arrived at Wisconsin to start his Ph.D., I was struck by his unique combination of good humor and desire to help those around him. He quickly became a favorite among his peers because of his commitment to learning and helping them learn,” said Heywood, who also serves as Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Master in Human Resources and Labor Relations director.
As his program started to come to a close, Jarrett looked for a university to teach at where he could thrive and grow as a professor. Jarrett credits Heywood for connecting him with Wisconsin alum Laurie Miller, who taught economics at Nebraska.
“When the opportunity at Nebraska opened up, I knew it would be a great match. Laurie Miller, an earlier graduate of our program, made clear both the Department of Economics and College of Business at Nebraska valued and demanded excellent teaching. She also described a supportive and successful environment in which a young teacher and scholar could grow. Uche is among the very finest teachers from our program and this match benefited both Uche and the Nebraska College of Business,” said Heywood.
Jarrett now finds himself in an environment which allows him to change the way people think about teaching. His plan to address the disconnect between professors teaching and student learning earned him the title of Seacrest Teaching Fellow in 2018. Using the same set of standard questions given out periodically through his courses, Jarrett will be able to track their learning in real time.
“What I'm doing with the Seacrest Fellowship is to use that test as a tool to see if people’s retention increases. If I just teach you all of these economics models, and I never put it in context or I do put it in context before and after, are you more likely to remember all these things when you're graduating or in your job? The idea is to put this in place to see what the impact of doing something before and after is on student behavior,” explained Jarrett.
Every semester Jarrett looks to make interactions in the classroom matter to both the faculty and students at Nebraska Business. His love for teaching and economics resonates within his work in the hopes he makes a positive impact on students’ lives.
“Every dedicated student deserves a teacher who knows the material, explains it clearly, identifies the needs of individual learners and responds with passion and caring. Uche is that teacher,” said Heywood.
To learn more about the Department of Economics, visit: https://business.unl.edu/economics
Published: July 10, 2019