Mo Alloush

This year Hamilton welcomed eight new tenure-track faculty members. Student writers from the Communications office recently interviewed these newest members of the faculty to find out why they chose Hamilton and what they think about their first semester on the Hill. Here’s Michelle Chung’s ’20 interview with Mo Alloush assistant professor of economics (some answers edited for brevity).

Why did you go into teaching?

I don’t think I really knew I wanted to be a professor until graduate school but I’d say my experience with teaching goes back far…the school I went to when I was young had what they called a group leader. They would intentionally seat one academically strong student with others with the expectation that this student actively helps those around him/her, especially in class work. When I was in college, I kept at it and did some tutoring at several different levels (high school and college), and [teaching] just became a part of me.

In graduate school I would hear a lot of students say that they don’t like economics, and I saw that as a challenge because if they saw economics the way I do, they [would] also love it. So what inspires me is trying to show economics to students in a way that makes them at least appreciate it. That is part of what motivates me to teach.

about Mo Alloush

B.A., American University of Beirut

M.P.P., Georgetown University

Ph.D., University of California, Davis

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Why did you choose Hamilton?

I really wanted to be somewhere where both my teaching and my research are valued highly. I found that here in this department and college. I have great colleagues, and I was easily convinced of the idea of coming to Hamilton because I could see that they clearly cared about both of those things, and that’s the kind of environment I wanted to be in.

Obviously research is what I do every day, and what I love doing, but I didn’t want to be at a place where they only value research and teaching is an afterthought. I really think that inspired teaching and being a good professor and advisor can make a big difference for a lot of students. That’s something I want to do and that’s part of the reason I chose Hamilton.

At the same time, I was excited about going to a place where the students wanted to be there. During the interview process last year … I met with some of the students, it seemed like they were passionate and excited about learning. As a professor, you can build off of that kind energy.

What do you like most about your students?

As a professor, you want to get students from Point A to Point E but you can only do so much in class, and for me, in a lot of other places I’ve taught, part of the process has been getting the students to do the work outside of class. Whereas here, that has been easier. In my limited time here, I have found that the students will work as hard as I ask them to ... It’s up to me to keep up with them and keep them engaged and challenged, and that is something I appreciate about the Hamilton students.

I think what surprised me most is how hard the students work. They are extremely active in many different areas and, compared to pretty much everywhere that I’ve been, on average they work harder and are very good students.

Can you talk about your faculty colleagues?

They’re great! As a new faculty member, I’ve found mentors and friends [who’ve] been supportive. I would say everyone I have talked to—faculty and staff alike—have been very kind and generous in terms of giving me advice but also making me feel welcome.

Has there been anything that’s surprised you?

Honestly, I think what surprised me most is how hard the students work. They are extremely active in many different areas and, compared to pretty much everywhere that I’ve been, on average they work harder and are very good students. I wouldn’t say it’s too surprising because that’s part of why I chose Hamilton, but it’s been reassuring and something that I really appreciate and will build on going forward in the way I design my classes.

I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly this place started to feel like home.  The group of faculty that I’ve met have made the transition to a small place like Clinton a lot easier. One thing that is not really surprising—but might be surprising to other people—I find that I’ve been okay with the weather, at least until now. But you can ask me again in March. I do love the snow though; it’s something I didn’t have for a long time in California!

Talk about your research.

Generally, my research is about poverty and specifically urban poverty. The research I’ve been doing for the past few years is about the relationship between mental health and poverty. It’s especially important in an urban context—not just here in the United States but all around the world. My research focuses on the bi-directional relationship between the two: poverty can really make mental health issues more likely. But also, once mental health issues develop, it becomes harder to make certain economic decisions, go to work, etc., which can get people trapped in a vicious cycle or what we call a “psychological poverty trap.” This has a lot of important applications especially in understanding the common conditions of poverty in different contexts around the world, but I think it can be eye-opening specifically for issues such as homelessness and chronic poverty.

What inspired you to pursue this type of research?

I felt that there was significant under-diagnosis of mental health issues, especially in poor countries. …when I looked more into some of the research being done in low-income countries that accurately try to look at mental health I found that the presence of depression, for example, is so much higher than I even imagined. That prompted me to think about the relationship that mental health has with poverty and how there can be a self-reinforcing mechanism.

If you suffer from mental health issues and poverty at the same time, they reinforce each other and you get trapped in a vicious cycle. This is not just relevant for extremely debilitating psychological breakdowns; it can take place with even common (and less severe) mental health issues like depression and anxiety that can affect decision making. … I would say that economists in the last three or four years have really started to address these issues a little more, [and] I’m one of those actively doing work in this area.

What’s one of your favorite things about Hamilton?

The campus is beautiful—during fall and right after it snows it is really incredible. I’ve actually been trying to hike the glens with my wife as much as I can, and as people who like being outdoors a lot, it’s a really nice thing to have in our backyard.

What’s one of your favorite places on campus?

I do really like my office and KJ, but I would probably say that other than the glens, I’ve had a lot of fun playing noontime basketball at the Scott Field House with faculty and staff and I really love the food at Opus, so I would say those are my favorite places on campus at the moment!

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