Recently retired Kansas State University professor Bryan Schurle was able to, as he humorously put it, “tell you some secrets that I haven’t been allowed to say in my whole career,” as he gave his final lecture to a contingent of friends, family and students in Waters Hall on Friday.
The presentation, titled “My Last Lecture,” is part the Last Lecture series put on by K-State’s Department of Agricultural Economics. The series features recently retired professors from the department giving one final lecture.
Schurle discussed the beginning of his 40-year career. Despite being an agricultural economics professor, he said he “had to learn economics on the job.”
“The people that hired me, I should thank them because they took a real risk hiring someone into an economics program that didn’t know any economics,” Schurle said.
Though Schurle did not begin his career with knowledge of economics, he does have a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Emporia State University and a master’s degree in computer information science from Ohio State University.
Schurle went on to speak at length about a field known as behavioral economics and its ability to accurately explain how people make decisions through experiments, neuroscience and fMRI studies that map brain activity.
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“Using economics to explain things felt a lot, honestly to me, like using a bigger and bigger hammer to try to make this thing work,” Schurle said. “Along came behavioral economics. Behavioral economics does not assume we are rational. It does experiments to see how people really do make decisions.”
Schurle said he believes that since people — college students in particular — do not always act how economists think they will, it is important to teach students how to make good decisions.
Rich Llewelyn, a fellow faculty member in the agricultural economics department, said he is also a believer in this principle.
“Actually I teach a class, and there were a couple of things that [Schurle] mentioned just on asking students about failures or about bad decisions,” Llewelyn said. “That’s something I would like to incorporate actually, just off the top of my head a little bit, and just helping people make good decisions rather than just teaching the material. I’d like to think that I engage with them, and I’m not simply throwing stuff at them.”
Yacob Zereyesus, agricultural economist and one of Schurle’s former graduate teaching assistants, spoke fondly of Schurle.
“He created opportunities for me to publish a paper,” Zereyesus said. “He was really fun to work with … really made a difference when I came here, in terms of me feeling welcome.”
In summing up why he decided to retire, Schurle said he wanted to quit while he was ahead, among other reasons.
Schurle’s wife Brenda Schurle, son Alan Schurle, daughter Amanda Bruce, son-in-law Jared Bruce, daughter-in-law Jenny Schurle, son Andrew Schurle and granddaughters Julianna, Aida and Ella Bruce were present at the lecture.