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Igniting a spark for a new way of thinking

Let’s be honest: There aren’t many people who are excited to walk into an economics class.

It’s something Jacek Siry is prepared for.

Siry, the Stuckey Professor in Forest Economics and Taxation at UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources in the Harley Langdale, Jr. Center for Forest Business, knows his undergraduate students didn’t come to UGA to study economics. For these students, the trees come first.

Which is why Siry is there to bring the energy.

“It sounds beyond bizarre, but when you step into a classroom and you try to teach a subject that is not very popular—I cannot think of myself as a Hollywood performer, but you have to step in and you have to lead the class and you have to make them excited,” says Siry. “That might sound easy, but given how many class meetings you have in a week, it’s tough. You cannot think, for a moment, ‘Oh, I’m so funny.’ You cannot wait for that moment. The class will be there, whether you’re ready or not.”

Siry’s methods have an effect, though. He’s among this year’s list of award-winning faculty members at Warnell, receiving this year’s Xi Sigma Pi Forestry Honorary Outstanding Professor Award.

Siry teaches undergraduate and graduate-level economics classes in the Harley Langdale, Jr. Center for Forest Business, and while he understands his students didn’t come to Warnell to dive into economics, he does have high expectations for them.

For example, he says, he makes his students aware that even outside the classroom, they are expected to think and act like economists. This means behaving rationally, recognizing good and bad choices and making informed decisions—especially in regard to natural resources and the environment. Siry also incorporates economic games to help students understand problems and works to make economics relevant to students.

But for each class, Siry acknowledges that he’s there to provide the spark. Igniting curiosity and the drive to learn have to follow from the students.

“Create some chaos and yearning for learning, and eventually they will start responding and learning off each other,” he says. “It’s that first initial jolt of energy.”

For Siry, it’s going beyond the basics of economics—beyond the why and how we go about it—and instead turning it into a way of thinking. It’s about decisions—in natural resources and elsewhere—and his coursework, Siry says, that build that mindset.

“I strive to promote a positive learning environment,” says Siry. “Since the issues we face are complex and only so much can be achieved within the confines of a single course, I strive to provide a strong foundation for lifelong learning.”

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