Shawn Kantor, a distinguished economist, was recently named head of the Department of Economics.

Kantor came to Rensselaer after nearly a decade as a founding faculty member at the University of California, Merced. At UC Merced, he served as the chair of a multidisciplinary department in the social sciences, building the group from himself to nearly 20 faculty members. Prior to that, he spent 14 years as a professor of economics at the University of Arizona.

Shawn Kantor

Shawn Kantor

“Professor Kantor’s experience as a founding faculty member at UC Merced will be invaluable as we work together to reinvigorate our economics programs,” said Mary Simoni, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

His plans at Rensselaer include revamping the undergraduate curriculum and recreating the graduate curriculum. “With regard to the graduate program, our goal is to change the focus of the program, and its name, to provide students a broader, more analytically rigorous education in economics,” Kantor said. Taking advantage of possible collaborations across Rensselaer will likely be a part of that transformation.

“Economics teaches students to ask questions about various economic, political, social, or technological phenomena, and to consider those questions within an analytically rigorous framework,” Kantor said. “We’re preparing students with the skills that are in strong demand now, especially skills related to quantitative analytics and decision-making.”

Training in economics complements the skills that students gain in other disciplines at Rensselaer, including science and engineering, he said. Many students studying economics at the undergraduate level are also pursuing degrees in other fields. “For many students, studying economics adds a rich element to the technical training that they receive in other majors,” Kantor said.

While leading the revamping of the curricula in the economics department and hiring new faculty, Kantor has continued his research examining the impact that research universities have on regional economic activity. Kantor is not alone at Rensselaer in focusing on the economics of innovation. “One of the significant research areas within the economics department is the study of innovation, technological change, and economic growth,” he said. The chance to work with colleagues within his department as well as in the Lally School of Management were among the factors that drew Kantor to Rensselaer.

“My work attempts to uncover the mechanisms through which knowledge flows between academic researchers and their local economies, which provides insights into the nature of the frictions that might impact the successful use of scientific discoveries emanating from universities,” Kantor said.

In recent years, the National Science Foundation has awarded Kantor two grants to further his research on that topic: in 2012, he was awarded a $125,000 grant to research the long-term regional economic impacts of public investment in university research, and in 2009, he was awarded a $311,020 grant to study the ascendency of the American research universities between 1870 and 1940.

His many published papers have won awards for outstanding writing. Kantor is the author of the books Politics and Property Rights: The Closing of the Open Range in the Postbellum South as well as A Prelude to the Welfare State: The Origins of Workers Compensation, which won national prizes for research excellence.