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RMU Economics Professor Wins Teaching Innovation Award

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pittsburgh, Oct. 22, 2014 – Brian O’Roark, university professor of economics at Robert Morris University, has earned the Undergraduate Teaching Innovation Award from the Middle Atlantic Association of Colleges of Business Administration (MAACBA).

O’Roark earned the award for his project “Incorporating Music into the Economics Classroom” in which he weaves popular music, from a variety of eras, into the curriculum for his introductory economics courses. The project started with a survey of the best economics songs of the past 50 years – including Madonna’s “Material Girl”, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop” – but has taken on a life of its own, as colleagues, friends, and family give O’Roark a steady stream of ideas for songs he can mine for principles of economics.

Recently, O’Roark has called on Billy Joel’s mournful 1990 single “The Downeaster ‘Alexa,’” which portrayed the plight of commercial fisherman working off Long Island, and “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank” from Mary Poppins in which the superannuated banker Mr. Dawes Senior and his colleagues explain compound interest to the Banks children.

“It helps students to see the economic concepts we are learning in class are not entirely esoteric. They are things that do show up in everyday life,” said O’Roark. “It gives them a different perspective on economics and a different perspective on music.”

O’Roark has been on the faculty at RMU for 10 years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and history from Grove City College, and his master’s degree and Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University.

 “Brian O’Roark’s efforts to reach the current generation of students studying economics through music are both innovative and exemplary, setting an excellent example for faculty nationwide,” said John Beehler, dean of the School of Business at Robert Morris University. “In the age where active learning and engagement are critical to the success of students preparing for their future careers, Brian has taken the lead and motivated others to find innovative ways to impact student learning across all disciplines.”