Distinguished Teacher: Martha Olney
23 April 2003
This is not the first time that Adjunct Professor of Economics Martha Olney has been honored for her teaching. In 1997, the Economic History Association awarded her its annual Jonathan Hughes Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Asked at that time for the key to her success in the classroom, she spelled out her answer: R-E-S-P-E-C-T — treat your students the way you’d like to be treated. Now a winner of Berkeley’s 2003 Distinguished Teaching Award, Olney also thinks students appreciate her well-organized instruction and clear information about what to expect, and when.
“There are so many things she does that make her a great teacher, it’s difficult to narrow it down,” says one of her former students, David Switzer, now a graduate student in economics at Washington University in St. Louis. But two of her most important qualities, he says, are that “she cares about her students and cares about economics.”
Olney, an Oakland native, teaches large lecture courses and seminars to undergraduates, on topics ranging from money and banking to U.S. economic history, economic principles, and macroeconomics.
Teaching at Berkeley, she says, means working with some of the brightest students in the country, “which is great fun and keeps me on my toes. It also provides me with the opportunity to teach in a public school, which I value.”
As a mentor to undergrads, Olney advises her students to follow their hearts. “Figure out what you love, what makes you groove, what turns you on, and major in that,” she says. “Life is too short to not do what you love.”
Olney considers herself fortunate, because she’s doing just that. She started thinking of teaching while in high school, thanks to an inspirational math teacher. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics from the University of Redlands in 1978 and her master’s and Ph.D. in economics from Berkeley in 1980 and 1985, respectively.
Olney and her partner of 19 years, Rev. Esther Hargis, are the mothers of a five-year-old son.
Olney will pass on her wisdom to graduates of all majors on May 15. The Class of 2003 has selected her as the Faculty Speaker for the 2003 Commencement Convocation at the Greek Theater.
— Kathleen Maclay