January 2013

LIGHTEN UP

No More Burns

Senior Instructor of Economics Chuck Stull was first and foremost, a liberal arts learner, and second, an aspiring chemist. That order of importance worked out well for him when he was an undergraduate at Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.). “Both my parents were chemists, so even in grade school, when other boys were going to grow up and be cowboys or firemen, I was going to be a chemist.” His certainty persisted throughout high school AP chemistry courses and right into higher education. “But at college  a lab didn’t go by where it seemed I didn’t get a burn, one week from an acid, the next from a hot crucible, then a bromine compound,” says Stull. “Eventually I came to realize that chemistry wasn’t for me.” Fortunately he was taking classes all over the disciplinary map (a good image for someone, like Stull, who loves to travel, literally and in the liberal arts). “Economics was interesting and practical, and that became my path.” No more burns.

What's the best song ever recorded?
I don’t believe in best; rather, the notion that “bests” vary by circumstance. So, if it’s summer and I’m on the lake, the best is from the Beach Boys, like “Surfing USA.” If I’m about to take a long trip, the best is Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” And there’re other bests.

What's your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?
A story called My Side of the Mountain. It’s about a runaway who lives in a hollowed-out tree in the woods with a hawk for a friend. I read it in elementary school, and something about his self-reliance and capability in nature spoke pretty deeply to me. I recently shared the book with my daughter, and she liked it too.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
‘SURPRISE!!’

What's your favorite word?
I have three, each one a highly technical term from economic statistics and each with a sound I love. Ready? Multicollinearity, heteroscedasticity, and autocorrelation. They’re fun to say aloud, and it’s best to say them fast. Besides, it helps to defuse the intimidation of the highly technical early in order to clear the way to the fun of economics.

What's your least favorite word?
“Literally” when it’s used for “figuratively.” Like: “I could literally eat a horse.”

What turns you on?
Moonlit nights on beaches

What turns you off?
Noise, annoyance, dishonesty—maybe in reverse order

What sound do you love?
Moving water. Could be a brook, waves, a waterfall, or the sound of wind across water.

What sound do you hate?
A car engine struggling to turn over that won’t. Then I’m stuck.

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
At first I thought a billionaire philanthropist, but maybe that’s not a profession. How about: magician!

What profession would you not like to participate in?
A dairy farmer. You can never leave the cows. One of my student’s uncles had only one overnight trip during his entire career in dairy farming, and that was for a funeral. I love to travel too much to be a dairy farmer.

What's been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?
It was a quarter rather than moment, a few years ago. I was auditing a Spanish class here at K, so I had some of my students as classmates. And I was teaching a statistics class in the math department, a first-year seminar class that focused on writing, and an economics class. It was a great time!

Who's the person (living or dead) with whom you'd most like to spend a lunch hour?
Tony Bourdain. He’s a chef, writer, and a cooking/travel television celebrity. He’s all about interesting food in interesting places. When I was living in Uruguay the producers of his show contacted me after reading a blog I kept. Although I never met Bourdain, I did connect his producers with several friends of mine down there, and Bourdain traveled to Uruguay to interview them. Maybe he owes me a lunch.

What memory from childhood still surprises you?
I still remember reading about how fast the earth moves, not only through space but its rotation, that if it weren’t for gravity we’d be spun into space at high velocity, like letting go of the bar on a playground merry-go-round going way too fast. Why would I still remember that? Maybe the surprise that reality is so different than our perception of it?

What is your favorite curse word?
It used to be coño. I could use it freely because few English speakers knew what it meant. I broke myself of that bad habit when I lived in Uruguay.

What is your favorite hobby?
Photography

What is your favorite comedy movie?
Animal House

What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you most?
It’s an event that occurred over time—the gradual expansion of the Internet from a purely academic e-mail network to all that it is today. It’s changed my interactions with family and students. It certainly is the event that has affected me most.

If a cow laughed, would milk come out of her nose?
It would be fun if it did.

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