200 Days in the Life of the College

Tuesday, April 26

Crossing borders, in the classroom and elsewhere

By Alyssa White ’11

What he teaches goes far beyond the “economics” tag in the course descriptions. His relationships with those he teaches last far longer than those courses. For Professor of Economics Erol Balkan, teaching offers daily challenges and inspiration. Those are things he simply can’t resist.

Balkan has been teaching at Hamilton since 1987. His professional interests range from sustainable economic development to economic anthropology. He co-developed the ACCESS project, giving women on welfare the chance to study on College Hill, and runs the College’s New York City Program. His next big project? Another off-campus study program — based this time in Turkey, his native country.

It’s not only through his teaching that Balkan remains connected to his homeland. During summer trips to teach there, he also collects footage for a documentary about nomads on the Georgian border. He has written a book on Istanbul’s new middle class as well.

Balkan says a liberal arts curriculum matches both his personality and his passions, not only because of his varied interests but because of his interdisciplinary methods. His courses examine global trends, not just abstract theories. Students say he offers engagement, enthusiasm and a scholarly worldview. His approach to economics, and to teaching, reflects his signature humanitarianism as well as profound wisdom.

Teaching, and the pursuit of ideas, is a lifelong commitment that literally defines Balkan. He keeps in touch with students long after graduation, often linking them to one another, and many — now power players in the financial and corporate world — return to campus to speak to his classes. Andrew Metz ’91, a 60 Minutes producer, visited a year ago. He told students how Balkan shaped his career two decades earlier. He concluded by telling his audience, “You are lucky to have this guy.”