"The part of my job I enjoy most is my interaction and connection with students," said economics professor Said Atri, who has taught at SUNY Oswego for more than three decades, and has devoted most of his research efforts to international finance.

When did you come to SUNY Oswego? 

Ages ago -- I believe 1981. I would have to go back and look, but I think that’s close enough. (Laughs.)

What has kept you at the college all these years?

I like the people I work with in my department and across the college. We get along very well in the department and never seem to have had major issues. Oswego is generally a very nice academic environment. We have come a long way since I came here. I can’t really think of any bad memories over the course of the years, maybe with the exception of a couple of bad winters.

Where were you born and educated?

I was born in Tehran. I came to the United States as a student. I went to the University of Nevada-Reno; I received a master’s degree there. Afterward, I went to SUNY Albany for my Ph.D. Then I came here. 

What courses do you teach? 

Presently, I am teaching intermediate microeconomics; managerial economics, an online course; and "Issues in Global Economy," which is a course tailored to mostly global studies majors, many of whom have not taken any economics. I also teach international trade and international finance and, occasionally, introductory economics.

What is your favorite part of teaching? 

The part of my job I enjoy most is my interaction and connection with students. Many of my students stay in touch with me for several years after they graduate. That is probably one of the most satisfying aspects of our job: seeing our students succeed and be happy. That is probably true for most of us. Sometimes students come to us to share their personal and family problems with us. When a young person turns to you and trusts you with their personal problems, you cannot be indifferent. That adds a different dimension to your job. 

What types of graduate schools do our economics students go to, and what types of jobs? 

We have a good number of students from various business programs in our classes. For example, in my microeconomics course, most students are either economics majors or double majors with economics. In terms of career choices, students who double major in economics and business have a wide range of options in the private as well as public sector. As for graduate studies, our students tend to gravitate to MBA programs, economics programs and law school. We do encourage our stronger students to consider graduate studies in economics, and we have had quite a few who have become successful professional economists working in academia and other sectors of the economy. Occasionally, through our Economics Club, we have our former students come back and share their experiences with our students.

Has your research interest evolved from the time of your Ph.D.?

Yes, it has. When I came here, my major research area was health care economics. My other field of specialization was international economics. In recent years, my research has been mostly in international finance – that is, financial relations among nations. A few years ago, I had an opportunity to spend two semesters in China (in 2009 and 2011) as a visiting professor. While in China, I started collaborating in some research projects with a couple of Chinese professors. Our work led to the publication of a couple of academic articles. I have maintained my contacts with them and hope to continue our collaboration. 

What types of issues do you deal with in international finance?

I can tell you about the last project, which I'm still working on. That has to do with the impact of Chinese foreign exchange policy (exchange rate) on inflation in countries that trade with China, particularly the U.S., and in China itself. As a follow-up to that, we are looking at the U.S. balance of payments and the U.S. trade deficit -- actually, the current account deficit -- and how the U.S trade deficit has been financed and has impacted the U.S. economy. The U.S. has been running a trade deficit continuously since about 1983, yet the U.S. dollar has remained relatively quite stable. It has fluctuated over the course of the past 35 years, but in relation to other currencies the long-term trend has been stable.

Why is that? 

The U.S. dollar has a special position among international currencies. It is a reserve currency for most countries -- there is always a demand for the U.S. dollar, although not necessarily to buy U.S. goods! That is partly how we have financed our trade deficits. It would be interesting to know how trade deficits and the way they've been financed have affected the economy.

This country’s trade deficit and strategies such as tariffs are much in the news.

As a matter of fact, most economists -- I would say the mainstream economists –- are against President Trump's approach to international trade: protectionism, treating Mexico and Canada as enemies, etc. For example, NAFTA, as an economic treaty that was designed about 25 years ago, may well be in need of some revisions. It is also true that China’s trade policies and practices have not been “fair” and they need to be addressed. Yet most economists are against protectionism as a solution, and that includes myself. Historically, we haven't had good results from protectionist strategies. Trade wars don’t have winners. 

What other activities on campus have you taken part in over the years?

I have served on several college-wide committees as well as department committees. Last year, for example, I served on the Priority Planning Council. I served on the Scholarly and Creative Activity Committee for several years. I served on the General Education Committee for a number of years and participated in the development of the original Gen Ed program. I also served on a number of other college-wide committees whose names I cannot recall now. In addition, in the 1990s, I served as the acting chair and the chair of the economics department. Sometime in the 1980s, a colleague of mine who is not here anymore (Jack Miller) and I did an economic impact study for the college that became the basis of the estimation of the economic impact of the college on Oswego for several years after that.  

Has there been a signal moment or time in your career? 

Possibly, my experience in China. I was invited to teach at Shanghai Normal University, and I visited a number of other schools while I was there. It was very eye-opening in terms of my prior conception about China in general and students in China. I learned how similar we all are. I learned that no matter where you go, collectively, students are all pretty much the same. When Chinese students are sent here, we tend to form our opinions of all Chinese students based on them. When you encounter the array of students in China, you realize, "They’re very much like American students." I did notice differences in the academic environment in China compared to the U.S. in terms of expectations, the approach to teaching, and, to a degree, to research.

What do you like to do off the job?

I read and I bike. I used to ski, but not so much anymore. When I was younger and my kids were still in school, I volunteered to help students who needed a little assistance with their academic work. In summers and near holidays, sometimes, I volunteer in Syracuse for different organizations such as soup kitchens.

What can you tell us about your family?

I live in Liverpool. We have a house in Durham, North Carolina. Both our son and daughter live in Charlotte. My wife spends most of her time in North Carolina. Once in a while, she comes up here, when the weather is good. My son is an attorney for a bank. My daughter used to work for Wells Fargo Bank. In recent years, though, she has been raising her children. I have six grandchildren. In summers, I spend about half of my time in North Carolina and the other half in Syracuse.