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Peace Economics uncovers students’ interest in global affairs

August 13, 2018

Two girls of different races sit next to each other in class.

Two girls sit at their desks during class, one wears a baseball cap and the other a hijab.

Mike Ellerbrock’s Peace Economics class draws students from a variety of majors every year as part of Virginia Tech’s Summer Academy.

The students, all incoming Virginia Tech freshman, sacrifice the latter part of their summer to take two six-week classes to kick start their college career.

“I wanted to start learning right away,” said Salvador Perez, one of Ellerbrock’s students this summer. “I don’t know yet what I want to major in so I wanted to explore some options.”

Ellerbrock, professor of agricultural and applied economics, has taught macroeconomics for three decades and this class for over 10 years.

Peace Economics is offered as part of the Human Biology: A Global Perspective track and is taken in conjunction with a human biology class taught through the College of Science. Ellerbrock’s class explores economic issues including international affairs and poverty around the world.

Many of Ellerbrock’s students this summer are entering their freshman year as biochemistry majors. But they have all appreciated how Ellerbrock’s class has made them “think big” as it promotes thinking outside of a single, narrow field of study and encourages students to apply concepts in relation to global affairs and the interplay between disciplines.

“I’ve been breathing hard science for the longest time so it’s nice to pair it with something else,” said Nani Morrison. “And I can relate what I learn about different countries and what their issues are in this class to what I learn in biology about specific diseases in biology.”

Although Morrison is just beginning her journey into higher education, she aspires to become a cancer biologist. And after just a few short weeks in Ellerbrock’s class, she already sees the benefit of pairing her biology studies with courses across campus.

Other students in Ellerbrock’s class have similar experiences.

“I only had a broad understanding of what we’ve been talking about in this class, but this class has bettered my understanding of the world,” said Edward Gaines, another student in Ellerbrock’s class who is registered as a biochemistry major. “This is my favorite class without a doubt. It’s made me want to study international affairs.”

While Gaines has no intention of switching his major now, he wants to broaden his focus to include biochemistry and international relations as this class sparked a hidden interest in global affairs.

“When economics is devoid of policy, it’s dry as a bone, it’s just charts and graphs,” said Ellerbrock. “But when it’s applied to policy discussions, then you begin to realize its importance.”

This approach helps many students recognize the importance of macroeconomics and global affairs, whether they choose to study a science, engineering, the arts, or applied economics.

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