What environmental economist Ju-Chin Huang seeks is almost invisible—the value of beach sand, clean water, pure air—and vastly important.

Her field is called nonmarket valuation, and it is her consuming interest. Certain goods—endangered species, state parks, or beach quality—don’t have a price, but they have an economic value. What’s the economic value of having a state park instead of a subdivision?


In general, Huang explains, there are two methods for determining nonmarket valuation. “In the direct method, you just ask people how much they’re willing to pay. For a state park, how much will they pay to go there? For a spotted owl, how much to save its habitat?”

Regarding the owl, people may say yes to five dollars but not to fifteen, so, she says, “the answer is in between, and you analyze the intervals and tie them to characteristics like income level, gender, location. Eventually it’s a cost benefit analysis and results in a dollar amount.”

The indirect method studies the consumption of private goods. The housing market, for example, becomes an indirect method to help researchers know how property values are affected by highway noise.

Huang lives about a mile from a highway herself, in Newburyport, Mass., with her economist husband Gregory Brown and their gray tabby cat, “Hicks,” named after Sir John R. Hicks, the 1972 Nobel Laureate in Economics.

She grew up in Taiwan and went to National Taiwan University; she has a Ph.D. in economics and statistics from North Carolina State University. Huang has been with the Whittemore School for three years.

Directly and indirectly, her research provides information that is useful to policy makers—information that can be controversial because it may influence decisions. In a pilot mail survey last year for an on-going project, Huang sent questionnaires to random residents of New Hampshire and Maine seeking their views on the costs and effects of beach erosion control methods. “The coastal line naturally moves inland, but because of human activities along the coastal area, we try to stop that,” she says. “So there’s a conflict between human activities and nature.”

After the survey went out, Huang was interviewed by newspapers and National Public Radio. Though she occasionally finds herself at the juncture between interests, Huang is resolutely neutral. “I’m an academic researcher, not a policy maker,” she says. “But I’d like to make a difference in terms of policy making. What I’m interested in is just naturally tied to environmental policies.”

As a teacher of economics, Huang is rigorous and organized, expecting the best from her students.

“She really made us work hard, but she did that for a reason,” says Melissa Hebert ’01, who studied introduction to econometrics with Huang. “She wanted us to take as much away from the class as possible.”

Huang’s model as a teacher is her mentor at North Carolina State, environmental economist
V. Kerry Smith. “He is involved in so many projects,” she explains, “but he always makes time to talk to his students.”

And Smith speaks as highly of her. “Graduate students like Ju-Chin keep me enthusiastic about teaching!” he says. “She took several of my classes and, in each case, used her class paper as an opportunity to do some genuinely new work. Many of those papers have now been published.”

She is “the absolute ideal of what a professor can be,” comments Huang’s colleague, economics professor Karen Conway. “As a new faculty member, she has reached levels in her teaching, research, and service that would be difficult to meet for many tenured faculty, who have taught for years.”

—Mary Peterson, University Publications

 

More Faculty Excellence

 

 

 

 

 

Outstanding Assistant Professor, Ju-Chin Huang

Ju-Chin Huang with students Joseph Hickey, Larry Fountain, Melissa Herbert, and Panlong Lin at McConnell Hall

Ju-Chin Huang,assistant professor of economics, Whittemore School of Business and Economics, with students Joseph Hickey, Larry Fountain, Melissa Herbert, and Panlong Lin, McConnell Hall, University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H.

 

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