Ron Mittelhammer liked Pullman and WSU from the start. This confident, friendly teacher who talks in rich, scholarly tones that somehow don’t go over your head, says he and his wife, Linda, have spent all but one week of their married life in Pullman. In 1974, they “honeymooned” by driving here, in winter, so he could enroll as a graduate student, working towards a doctorate.
He received it in 1977 and gained a position that year as an assistant professor specializing in econometrics and marketing. He was promoted to full professor in 1986.
“I’m still thrilled to be here,” he exclaims. “I’m a product of WSU. As a student, I felt like a person with a name, not a number. I was nurtured in a university system of open doors. I try to give that back to my students.”
Mittelhammer plays a musical “instrument,” for his own enjoyment but also for others at senior centers, dinners, and parties. The instrument is an electronic synthesizer that looks identical to an accordion. And you have to be a genuine musician to play it, he admonishes, the device doesn’t play itself. He says Linda, who used to play the accordion and the cello, enjoys his “synthetic” music.
Mittelhammer used to camp and fish, at Badger Lake among other places, but says he has no time for it anymore. He claims to have caught a 15-inch rainbow trout…
“Mathematical Statistics for Economics and Business” (1996) and “Econometric Foundations” (2000) are Mittelhammer’s two textbooks. They are used at WSU and worldwide (Europe, Asia). Getting graduate-level textbooks published is not the pathway to fortune, he admits. In other words, the books haven’t made him rich.
The first textbook lays out the fundamental statistical building blocks underlying the sequence of econometrics courses in the agricultural economics, economics, and finance graduate programs. The second book builds on the first, teaching the tools professional economists use to quantitatively analyze real-world data. “Our graduate program has a national reputation for rigorous training in applied econometrics” Mittelhammer says.
His students have an advantage because of the unique nature of these textbooks. Multimedia software on a computer CD supplements the second book. The CD provides hands-on illustrations that complement the printed text. “This way of presenting the material is very effective,” he asserts.
“Students work interactively with real-world statistics and econometrics,” Mittelhammer explains. “They can change the problem and context parameters and then watch the program produce new results — the examples can continually provide new learning.”
The program remains “up to date,” unlike static printed information, because the students must work in variations, extensions and procedures at a level not typically found in commercial statistics software.
The textbooks follow Mittelhammer’s approach to teaching — building knowledge sequentially from the ground up. And though his courses are offered through the joint Ph.D. program in agricultural economics, economics, and finance, he asserts that the training is general, and has broader application. “What students learn here is effective for any discipline involving data that has to be statistically analyzed and interpreted,” he says.
He builds a comfort level in each class. Making eye contact with everyone is important, as is greeting the shy ones in or out of class. “One of my goals is to know everyone’s name by the end of the second week,” he says.
He encourages students to actively participate and question. They are part of the lecture, which, he says, is “not just an information dump.” But he forces no answers — that’s part of the comfort approach.
“There are no bad questions and no silly answers,” he asserts about classroom participation. All less-than-satisfying answers are analyzed and discussed.
He knits his lectures together as a continuing sequence of information, explaining how each one connects to the previous and to the next. Students see how a collection of theories and ideas link together into whole methodologies of scientific inquiry, and why the methods are relevant and applicable.
Ron says he is amazed, pleased, and honored to receive an award for doing what he loves.
“This place is something special, it’s in my blood. I love it.”
Congratulations, Ron Mittelhammer!