2017 Top 40 Undergraduate Professors: Simon Bowmaker, NYU (Stern)

Simon Bowmaker

Clinical Associate Professor of Economics

New York University, Stern School of Business

It’s not just that he teaches a course at NYU called Economics of Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll that’s so popular it requires two sections to be offered each semester. It’s not that he has designed an unprecedented five undergraduate electives that are affectionately called the “Bowmaker major.” What makes Simon Bowmaker a top undergraduate professor is his love, passion, and dedication for the study of and teaching of economics that consistently permeates everything he does.

When teaching Microeconomics to 300 Stern undergraduates, Bowmaker is known to takes the time to learn every single student’s name so that he can get everyone’s contributions during class. When researching economics, he’s not merely fascinated by the application of it, he’s equally passionate about the working lives of other professionals in the field. This is evidenced by two of his published books, The Heart of Teaching Economics: Lessons from Leading Minds and The Art and Practice of Economics Research: Lessons from Leading Minds, which feature one-to-one interviews with some of the top economists in Europe and in the United States. Professor Bowmaker’s efforts have been recognized by the Stern School. He is a past recipient of the school’s Distinguished Teaching Award for Pedagogical Innovation for his excellence in course development.

Age: 45

At current institution since: 2007

Education: MA (First Class Honors), Economics, University of Aberdeen, 1996; MPhil, Economics, University of Cambridge, 1998; PhD, Economics, University of St Andrews, 2008

List of courses currently teaching: Undergraduate: Microeconomics; Psychology and Economics; Sports Economics; Health Economics; Transportation Economics; and Economics of Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Graduate: Sports Economics; Firms and Markets

Fun fact about yourself:, Early in my career I taught introductory macroeconomics to Calvin Johnson, who went on to become one of the greatest receivers of all time in the NFL.  

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I learned that my teaching portfolio would include undergraduate students, part-time MBA students, full-time MBA students, and executive MBA students. I realized that their wide-ranging experiences and career aspirations would make me a better and more well rounded teacher of economics.

“If I weren’t a business school professor…” Turning back the clock, I would be the drummer in AC/DC when Bon Scott was on vocals.

“One word that describes my first time teaching…” Exhilarating

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? They are highly motivated to make a success of their lives.

What is the biggest challenge that comes with teaching undergraduate business students? Convincing them that a business school education does not always have to be tied to short-term quantifiable outcomes (how it will lead to the best internship or the best full-time job); learning for learning’s sake should also be viewed as an important and enjoyable part of the process.

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? One of my students, to whom I taught introductory microeconomics at Stern, went on to graduate as the School’s valedictorian and was accepted into the PhD program in economics at Stanford University.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? My students learn very quickly that I am a die-hard supporter of my hometown soccer team, Sunderland AFC, in England. They almost always follow the “big” teams. For the past decade at Stern, they have taken great pleasure on Monday mornings in reminding me of the score at the weekend when Sunderland were (inevitably) hammered by their particular team. To really rub it in, some have even gone to the trouble of coming to class wearing their team’s jersey.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Receiving a grade in my class is not a transactional exchange.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …” Fair

“But I would describe myself as …” Judicious

What are your hobbies? Sports (soccer, cricket, and boxing), live jazz, street photography, and foreign film

How did you spend your summer? Working on my book

Favorite place to vacation: Avignon, France

Favorite book: The Mackem Dictionary

Favorite television show: Fawlty Towers

Favorite artist: Pat Metheny

Bucket list item #1: To follow the England cricket team around Australia during the Ashes Test Match series.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Publishing a book before completing my PhD, which I earned while teaching full time.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? Being specifically asked by the Dean of the Undergraduate College to replace William Baumol, upon his retirement, as the instructor of the large-lecture freshman Microeconomics class at Stern. This was a huge honor for me as William Baumol was one of the most influential economists of the 20th century.

Professor you most admire and why: Joseph Stiglitz (Professor, Columbia University) for his phenomenal breadth of scholarship, prolific output, tremendous energy, and relentless tenacity in taking his ideas to the very top of economic policymaking. 

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?

I am writing a book entitled, Economics in the White House: Conversations with Policymakers. I am interviewing 35 individuals, including eight former Secretaries of the Treasury, about their experiences working for the President of the United States. The most significant discovery is that, in their interactions with their advisers and counsellors, three modern-day Presidents demonstrated an exceptional grasp of economics. If you want to find out the names of these particular Presidents, and how exactly I discovered they had strong economic intuition, you will need to buy the book! It will be published by MIT Press in 2019.

Twitter handle: I don’t have one.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…”

Much more human interaction. This means students learning from professors in the classroom, professors learning from students in the classroom, and students learning from each other in the classroom.

“And much less of this…”

Much less hype, and much more focus on inspiring students through great teaching and first-rate research.

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would look like for you

I am continuing to enjoy teaching economics and, most importantly, I am still fascinated by the subject.

Students say…

Katie Anderson (BS ’17)

“If I had to sum up Professor Bowmaker in one sentence, it would be this: he cares. One of the best things about his teaching is that he chooses material that he’s interested in, and you can really tell from his lectures. He explains every concept so well but you know he could go on forever if he was asked. The classes he teaches use Microeconomic concepts to apply to all sorts of industries, like transportation and sports, that I will never look at the same way again. The way he lectures is just interesting. He’s compelling, and he’s so funny–he has made some of the best puns I’ve ever heard, and they’re always relevant to the economics he’s teaching.”

“But more than that, Professor Bowmaker cares about his students. Even in his larger classes, he makes an effort to get to know everyone–before and after class as well as during in-class discussions. He remembered details about my life and he always took the time to find out what I was up to outside of school. Running into him in the halls or on campus was often the best part of my day. He’s the kind of professor who inspires people to take multiple classes of his; it’s such a phenomenon that it’s part of our first-day intros. To me, at least, it felt like getting scout patches or something. People are so proud to have taken two or three or four Bowmaker classes.”

“I am so grateful to have had a professor who was so fun and engaging in the classroom and at the same time cared so much about his students. His classes were easily the academic highlight of my time at NYU.”

Annamarie Gonzalez (BS ’16)

“Simon fosters an inclusive learning community where creativity and participation are encouraged. He keeps students engaged and excited by exploring topics beyond traditional economics with real-life applications. His courses are innovative and unmatched at other universities, which truly makes my experience as his student unique and memorable.”