“I knew I wanted to be either an economist or a professional soccer player,” says Bebonchu Atems, an associate professor of economics and financial studies at Clarkson. “But, by the time I was 20, I realized it was more practical to focus on economics than on becoming a soccer star.”
Growing up in Cameroon, Atems was curious about the obvious disparities between the lower socioeconomic community in which he lived and the prosperous places in the U.S. that were depicted in movies. His inquisitiveness led him to pursue economics and eventually research the determinants and consequences of income inequality within and across countries. This research not only provided the basis for his PhD, but also gave him answers to the questions he’d had about inequality since he was 12 years old.
Fast forward to 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit, creating a massive ripple of change across the economic climate. Atems was still new to the U.S. at the time and was immediately intrigued with the resulting energy price anomalies.
“I noticed that gasoline prices spiked dramatically in the months following Hurricane Katrina,” recalls Atems. This observation resulted in another research focus: investigating the macroeconomic impacts of changes in energy prices. Atems wanted to understand how oil prices trigger increases in gasoline prices and why consumers have to pay for that increase.
Bebonchu Atems, Associate Professor of Economics and Financial Studies
Eventually, this expanded into an investigation into how U.S. foreign policy, events in politically unstable oil-producing regions of the world and the increase in oil demand by rapidly growing economies like China and India all affect oil prices, and how the change in oil prices affects the stock market and exchange.
“One of my goals is for people to understand what’s causing the increase or decrease in the price of oil, and what the connection is between oil prices and politics,” says Atems. “I think that a deeper understanding of that role will make us an informed society and, hopefully, bring about a peaceful planet.”
Atems brings his real-world perspective into the classroom. In his Introduction to Econometrics course, he takes the students’ passions or interests and puts an economic spin on them, illustrating how economics affects everything we do. For example, he helped a student interning with GE to understand how jet fuel prices affect the airline industry, assisted another student with a project centered on the impact of El Niño on agriculture stock returns, and guided an innovation and entrepreneurship student in determining the role that entrepreneurship plays in rising U.S. and global income inequality.
Atems’ dedication to helping students gain not only experience in economic theory but also practical skills is unmistakable. His classes are structured around learning the basics of research: collecting data, processing information and conducting a thorough analysis.
“My goal for my students is that when they’re done with my courses, they’ll be ready for not only academic success, but career success,” says Atems.