"My Years at USU were Very Important to my Development as a Scholar"
Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013
Utah State University alum Lars Peter Hansen is one of three Americans named a recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economics.
Hansen is internationally known for his specialization in economic dynamics, using statistical methods applied to study linkages between financial markets and the macroeconomy. Since joining the University of Chicago in 1981, Hansen is now the David Rockefeller Distinguished Service Professor in Economics and Statistics and is the inaugural research director for the Becker-Friedman Institute. He was named a Nobel Economics Laureate alongside Eugene Fama, also of the University of Chicago, and Robert Shiller of Yale University.
According to the Nobel committee, Hansen, Fama and Shiller’s work “laid the foundation for the current understanding of asset prices” and sounded warnings for the most recent turn-of-the-century’s dot.com and housing bubbles.
“First and foremost our congratulations go to Lars,” said USU President Stan L. Albrecht. “We are delighted he has received such a distinguished honor. Lars is a world-renowned researcher and scholar, obviously, but the USU community also gets to remember him as an exceptional undergraduate student who always was destined for success.”
Aspen Gorry, a current USU professor of economics, attended graduate school at the University of Chicago and took classes from Hansen. Gorry said Hansen’s class was the most challenging course he took during his first-year as a doctoral student because it dealt with material from a very high theoretical level.
“Dr. Hansen is a leader in his field,” Gorry said. “His methodology and statistical models are used by economists to understand asset prices. More simply, his models are used to help economists understand how investors behave in economic uncertainty.”
Hansen earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and political science and a minor in economics from USU in 1974. He is son of the late R. Gaurth Hansen, renowned biochemist and former USU provost, and longtime USU supporter Anna Lou Rees Hansen, who resides in St. George, Utah.
Hansen, who received an honorary doctorate from USU in 2012, fondly remembers his Aggie studies.
“My years at USU were very important to my development as a scholar,” he said. “I remember well the influences of my professors Mike Windham in mathematics, Bartell Jensen and Ken Lyons in economics and Doug Alder in history.”
Hansen says Windham’s classes gave him “a great perspective on mathematics.” He credits Jensen and Lyons with preparing him to pursue graduate studies in a top economics program at the University of Minnesota, where Hansen completed a doctorate in 1978
Perhaps the most prescient advice came from his history professor.
“Dr. Alder told me ‘Do something special and don’t just imitate others,'” Hansen recalls.
Jensen, a USU emeriti professor of economics and mathematics, taught Hansen as an undergraduate. Reflecting on Hansen’s days as a student, Jensen said he was a delight and that he was a rare and stunning intellectual.
“I am very proud of Lars,” said Jensen. “His career has blossomed, but he hasn’t let it go to his head. He is an exceptionally humble and personable individual.”
Bill Furlong, professor of political science in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences recalls Hansen as “a gem of a student.”
“He’d sometimes challenge his professors and faculty members,” Furlong said. “He’d really make us think about our positions and I always really appreciated having him in my class.”
As a student at USU, Hansen worked as a research assistant for former USU political science professor and well-known pollster Dan Jones, alongside fellow political science major Randy Simmons. Simmons, who is currently the USU Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Economy, said that Hansen’s Nobel recognition was not a surprise.
“Lars is a brilliant individual and he has been listed as one of the most influential people in the field of economics for years,” Simmons said.
In 2009, USU’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business honored Hansen with a Professional Achievement Award, given by the school to recognize individuals who achieve extraordinary success in their careers and demonstrate uncommon leadership in their communities.
Huntsman School of Business dean Douglas Anderson is a former classmate of Hansen.
“Lars is one of the deepest thinkers I have ever met,” said Anderson. “He was genuinely curious about the way the world works, and not satisfied with simple-minded answers.”
Hansen’s professional achievements are many. He is a 2011 recipient of the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Economics, Finance and Management and a 2008 recipient of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group-Mathematical Sciences Research Institute Prize in Innovative Quantitative Applications.
“We are excited that Lars has received this well-deserved recognition,” said James MacMahon, dean of USU’s College of Science, which houses the university’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics. “We’ve followed his many accomplishments through the years and appreciated his faithful support of his alma mater.”
Hansen is a member of the National Academy of Science and American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the Econometric Society and a fellow of the American Finance Association. He is a former John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow and a Sloan Foundation Fellow.
Hansen received the 2006 Erwin Plein Nemmers Prize in Economics from Northwestern University, a 1998 UChicago Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and, in 1984, was co-winner of the Frisch Medal from the Econometric Society.
He and his wife, Dr. Grace Tsiang, are the parents of a son, Peter.