Faculty Spotlight: Professor Amit Sen

Sep 17, 2018

Amit Sen, professor of economics, never saw himself growing up to become a teacher. 

"Neither I, nor any of my teachers or relatives would have ever imagined that I would be in the teaching profession," he says.

But having grown up in Delhi, India, with a population of more than 18 million people, he picked up a spirit of cooperation and collaboration — and it permeated his academic philosophy.

Now, reflecting on his 17 years in Cincinnati and at Xavier, Sen reveals he's not the type to shy away from a challenge-not even a classroom of bleary-eyed freshmen. In fact, his family history reflects much of the international tensions playing themselves out every day in the national media and on the political landscape.

His parents were born in what is now called Bangladesh. After the independence of India, when the British left, there was a mass exodus of people moving from one country to another. It was during this time, that his parents' families migrated to Kolkata. Subsequently, Sen's parents relocated to Delhi, India.

As for coming to America, it was not caste, but class, that attracted Sen-as in college classes. "When I was at university at Delhi, I got into my head I was going to come to the U.S. to pursue graduate work," he says.

Sen enhanced his abilities as a problem-solver by majoring in mathematics, but his intent in America was to study economics.

Sen picked North Carolina State University for his master's degree and stayed for a PhD. He applied to more than 30 schools and got an offer at the State University of Missouri in Rolla, Mo. He took the job and began teaching, but he often wondered why he felt something was missing in his life.

Enter Suparna Chatterjee. How they met is a plot worthy of a Bollywood romance. "We were born and raised in Delhi," he says. "Our houses were four minutes apart. But we met here. We didn't meet in India."

Sen had come to the states in 1991, Chatterjee in 1994. While completing her PhD in Milwaukee, she met Sen's sister, who wrote his telephone number on a slip of paper and told Chatterjee to contact her brother if she ever needed anything.

So she did, and their friendship soon blossomed into romance. They married and spent five years in Rolla, then moved to Cincinnati and Xavier, where Chatterjee is now an assistant professor of sustainability and global cultures.

They love owning a home in Hyde Park and "living the American dream." Except for one cherished tradition-cutting the grass.

Sen had bought a lawnmower with all the frills. "Whatever they told me to buy, I bought. I mowed the lawn and it felt really good. I was sweating, it was my yard. I looked at my lawn and said, 'Yeah I did that, that was pretty cool.'"

But after the third time, the thrill was gone. "Now I'm cutting the grass because I have to," he says. "And now the whole time I'm thinking, how do I get out of this thing? So I applied the principles of economics."

Specifically, the principle of comparative advantage. He hired a lawn service. It freed up valuable time to devote to other important tasks. Like teaching.

"The new generation of students interacts in a completely different way," he says. "Students today are driven by issues, not majors."

 

Amit Sen Fun Facts:

• "I have never had a meal at Skyline or Gold Star."

• He's been to Goa-the actual Indian city, not the class for first-year Musketeers.