Merlin Hanauer 

Sonoma State University Economics Professor Wins Cozzarelli Prize

merlin_hanauer_headshot_mt.jpgSonoma State University Assistant Professor of Economics, Merlin Hanauer (et. al) was awarded the prestigious Cozzarelli Prize-- the annual award that "acknowledges papers that reflect scientific excellence and originality"--by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS.) The article was one of six chosen for the award out of 3,500 articles that were published last year. 

The article demonstrated how protected regions-- areas that have been closed off to protect the environment-- have affected both poverty and deforestation in Costa Rica and Thailand. What Merlin and his co-authors were worried about is something called "poverty traps."

If governments close off an area that has provided resources and land to a historically poor community, it's possible these restrictions could act to keep them inpoverty. The team found surprising results. "Some of the poorest communities at baseline have actually had the most positive response to the establishment of protected areas," Merlin explained in a podcast following the ceremony. He and his colleagues havealso created sustainability maps. These show graphically where to place future protected areas so as to ensure both less deforestation and less poverty.

Merlin believes they won the Cozzarelli prize because the paper was "accessible and policy relevant, meaning people from a broad array ofscientific backgrounds could read and pickup salient points." One of the primary goals of this research wasto introduce a framework for studying protected areas that can be implemented world-wide.

Where might an economist get this kind of passion? Growing up in a small logging community onthe Salmon River. Inspired yet frustrated by the lack of response to the proverbial "long haired hippies" protests against logging, he decided to take a more academic path to make adifference. He studied environmental economics as a way to help actively change the world.

"Economics gave me the opportunity to speak in ways people would respond to. I saw this as a way to achieve goals and get people to listen." His research has taken him across the world to places like Bolivia and Italy to help highlight the impacts of conservation policy.

In addition to being a promising researcher, he is a great teacher. He received the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies Excellence in Teaching Economics award and theTheodore C Boyden Excellence in Teaching Economics award while teaching as a graduate student at Georgia State University. He humbly shared, "We don't have a lot of metrics for judging success a steachers so it was nice to receive that feedback."

Interestingly, Merlin discovered his love of teaching through kayaking. During a break between undergraduate and graduate school he became a kayak instructor, and saw how his influence could shape another's skill. The decision was made. Knowing that econ classes are usually met with snores or dread, he does his best to bring as much energy to the classroom as possible.

"He was the best economics teacher I have ever had. He was extremely clear throughout the courseand made hard concepts easy to understand by using examples that were interesting and relatable," said Brittany Navarre, a junior and former student of Merlin's. 

When she first signed up for "Professor Merlin's" class she was expecting an old man with a long white beard but instead found a young, energetic professor who has seen the world and brings that to the classroom. "All of his experiences with economics outside the classroom have really given him an advantage in teaching and I am grateful that I was in his class." While this is only Merlin's second year at Sonoma State University, he has already shown many students that through economics they too can help change the world.

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