200 Days in the Life of the College

Thursday, December 2

At the intersection of labor economics and Broadway

By John Wulf ’12

As the group of Hamilton students emerges from beneath the marquee of Billy Elliot, they thank Derek Jones. The Imperial Theatre on Broadway may seem like an odd place to teach economics, but for Jones, the Irma M. and Robert D. Morris Professor of Economics and fall director of the program, it is just another classroom.

The Program in New York City is a Hamilton specialty. Offered every semester, it gives students the opportunity to earn credits while gaining valuable work experience in one of the world’s great cities. This semester Jones has chosen “labor in a metropolitan area” as the program’s theme. With that in mind, every student has worked an internship, conducted an independent study and taken two classes — one on labor economics and the other on employment relations. All of them have amounted to what Jones calls a “synergy of learning.” Yet the education has not ended there.

Throughout the semester, Professor Jones has done his best to include The Big Apple in his lesson plan, taking his students on a collegiate version of The Magic School Bus. Their visits have included a trip to the Tenement Museum, the Boiler Plate Museum, the opera and Billy Elliot — a play about a boy becoming a dancer in the midst of a coal miner’s strike.

“If they think hard, they’ll see how some of the concepts we discuss in class are informed by their observations about life in New York. I mean, even the guys on the street selling all the junk souvenirs — what kind of labor market is that? What kind of wages are they getting?”

And if those in the program think really hard, they might realize that Billy Elliot is also about a teacher expanding a student’s horizons.