Jason Shogren isn’t in the business of answering easy questions. What, after all, is easy about today’s economy?
No wonder he seemed to savor such a simple question: What do you most enjoy about working at the University of Wyoming?
“My favorite part has always been the students,” Shogren says as a smile cracks his face. “Students have opinions—and that’s good. It’s part of my job to get them to voice those opinions and, to me, helping other people find their voices is the best part of the job.”
He has quite a voice of his own.
An internationally respected economist who was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, Shogren is not only among the most distinguished faculty members at his alma mater but also an accomplished musician who uses the stage to help connect with his students.
The front man for J Shogren Shanghai’d, a five-member band that plays an eclectic mix he calls Wyoming Mountain Blues, Shogren has become a favorite of many regional music aficionados. In addition to his role as lead vocalist, Shogren plays the guitar and the mandolin for a band that will represent Wyoming at the 29th International Blues Challenge, which, in 2012, attracted 226 acts from 14 countries.
Though Shogren admits he long tried to keep his professional life separate from his longtime hobby, UW’s Stroock Professor of Natural Resource Conservation and Management says he has come to learn that music can serve as a powerful conduit to the younger generation.
“I think it probably makes me seem more normal rather than just the guy blabbing at the front of the classroom,” says Shogren, who began playing in a band at age 12 with childhood friends in his native Minnesota. “I get some students who come up to me where I’m playing and they’ll say, ‘Hey, you’re my professor!’ You try to pull it out of them in class. But, a lot of times, they’ll see you outside of class and want to engage you in a discussion. When I do, I say, ‘Tell me what you’re thinking about economics now.’”
Even when he’s not on stage, Shogren’s expertise keeps him in the spotlight. He was the White House senior economist for environmental and natural resource policy in 1997, a member of Wyoming’s Environmental Quality Council from 2000-04 and is one of 14 international scientists who have served, by invitation, as Royal Guest Professors of Sweden’s King Carl Gustaf XVI.
But it’s his current appointment as chair of UW’s Department of Economics and Finance that may be his crowning achievement.
“This department made it its mission, back in the mid-1970s, to be one of the best in environment and natural resources economics,” says Shogren, who taught at Appalachian State, Iowa State and Yale universities before coming to UW in 1995. “I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to help keep alive a tradition that Tom Crocker, Ralph d’Arge and Bill Morgan started more than 40 years ago. When our generation hands off the baton at some point, I know it’s just going to keep going.
“The goals will always be the same: to be one of the best in the world and to help our students believe they can accomplish anything they choose in life."