back to news Nov. 15, 2018

The economics of a career

Even though Ohio State alumnus Tom Kniesner (BA, 1969; MA, 1971; PhD, 1974) has conducted research and served on the faculty at more than half a dozen universities and institutions, he’s still a Buckeye through and through. With three degrees in economics, Kniesner has developed and honed his skillset in differing and exciting opportunities throughout his vast career — while also helping students succeed in their own professional endeavors. 

Kniesner has taught at Indiana University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University and Syracuse University, among others, and he is now professor and chair of the Department of Economic Sciences at Claremont Graduate University in California. Throughout his career, Kniesner has been a visiting research fellow at top universities in Japan, Australia, the Netherlands and London, as well as American universities like Harvard and Cornell. Kniesner is also a research fellow at the Institute of Labor Economics (IZA) and is Krisher Professor of Economics Emeritus at Syracuse University.

Before Kniesner earned his degrees from Ohio State, he actually began his very first year of college at the University of Michigan. A first-generation college student, Kniesner’s parents were always insistent that he receive a college education.

“My parents never gave me another choice about going to college — they would always just say, ‘You’re going to college!’” Kniesner recalled. “My wife and I give our son Will, who is an economics and sport management major at Syracuse University, a lot of advice about what courses to take and how to deal with dorm life. My parents didn’t know anything about that, and neither did anyone else in my family, so I basically had to puzzle all these things out on my own.”

While he was figuring out how to maneuver college life, Kniesner was also searching for a major and what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. It was a chance encounter that made him realize his budding interest in economics.

“My roommate was taking economics, and I happened to look at his textbook,” Kniesner said. “I picked it up and said, ‘Oh, this is really cool stuff.’”

Kniesner then transferred to Ohio State and tried out several different classes and majors before returning to economics — his true passion. Labor economics, health economics and econometrics became his specialties. After earning his PhD, he embarked on his illustrious career in academia as a faculty member, department chair and research fellow at institutions around the globe.

Kniesner’s experience and expertise also extends to the corporate world — he spent time working at Eli Lilly, published countless journals, co-authored several books and he even earned a spot on the senior staff of former President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers. Working on the council's senior staff proved to have a much different environment and pace than his previous positions.

“In research and academia you work on projects long term. In government, you have to turn work out really fast,” Kniesner said.

Looking back on all of his experiences, Kniesner also remembers the people and mentors during his years at Ohio State that influenced him and helped him along the way. One mentor in particular, professor emeritus of economics Belton Fleisher, took Kniesner under his wing after Kniesner took his undergraduate labor honors course. Kniesner then went on to become an undergraduate research assistant for Fleisher, who also helped him write his undergraduate honors thesis.

“Belton then trained me in the fine points of being a professional economist and I wrote my dissertation with him,” Kniesner recalled, adding that Fleisher's mentorship extended beyond the classroom to include important life lessons such as how to eat an artichoke and the fundamentals of wine. “He was a full-service advisor, so to speak." 

Even after many high points in his career, Kniesner’s proudest accomplishment has been mentoring graduate students and helping them connect in the industry and flourish in their own careers.

“I’ve been able to place them in jobs and I try to keep up with them after they leave ... we try and get together and do things as much as possible," Kniesner said.

Kniesner’s generosity also extends to his alma mater — along with serving on the Department of Economics Advisory Board, Kniesner and his wife, Deborah Freund, herself a distinguished health economist, established a scholarship fund within the department. The Tom Kniesner and Debbie Freund Scholarship was recently awarded for the first time to two economics students: Minhae Kim and Noah Gibson.

Kim is a PhD student with a focus on econometrics. She, too, strives for a career in academia after graduation, and sees the scholarship as motivation for reaching this goal.

“Receiving this scholarship is a great motivation for me to move forward and gives me confidence that I am on the right track and one step closer to my goal,” Kim said.

And as a graduate student [and a] mother, it is also a great help for my financial situation.”

Gibson, a senior majoring in economics and minoring in development studies, also plans to continue his education in economics.

“This scholarship will not only help me next semester, but will make it much easier to pursue my future goal of going to graduate school for economics,” Gibson said.

Kniesner has high hopes for the scholarship recipients, just as his parents had high hopes for him when they encouraged him to go to college and do something great.

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