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Clinical Professor of Economics Robert Kallen Retires

Clinical Professor Robert Kallen
Robert Kallen, Clinical Professor

The Department of Economics announced the recent retirement of Robert Kallen from his clinical professor of economics position. Prior to embarking on his teaching career, Kallen started in law and later began working in business after he received his law degree and master’s in economics from Washington University in 1982. He quickly put his law degree to work as a staff attorney at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C. After a two-year stint in D.C., Kallen became vice president of operations and general counsel for Bake-Line Products, Inc., a private-label cookie manufacturing company with national distribution and annual sales of more than $100 million.

Kallen then transitioned to focus on law and economics, working at the Environmental Law and Policy Center of the Midwest until 1995. In 1996, he founded RSK Strategies LLC to provide expertise and capital to small and growing companies specializing in the food and education sectors. Kallen brought his experience in business, economics, law and politics to the classroom when he first began teaching at DePaul's School of New Learning (now the School of Continuing and Professional Studies) in 1996.

Highlighting his experience and creating an engaging classroom environment quickly made Kallen a popular instructor. He became a full-time instructor in 2008. In the Q&A below, we asked Kallen a few questions about his time at DePaul, his teaching experience, and what the future holds.

When did you start teaching at DePaul, and can you tell us about that first year?

I actually started as an adjunct in the School of New Learning (now the School of Continuing and Professional Studies) in 1996, and they were kind enough to ship me to Hong Kong to teach economics at the International Bank of Asia—what an experience and a wonderful way to start my relationship with DePaul. I continued teaching at SNL, teaching a major seminar which was their capstone course.

Sometime in the early 2000s, I was introduced to Dr. Maggie Oppenheimer, who was then chair of the economics department, and she was kind enough to give me an opportunity to teach microeconomics to the MBA students. What a phenomenal first year in the Driehaus College of Business. The MBA students were quite engaging and I really remember how receptive they were to my approach to teaching a real-world micro course and trying to relate the principles to what was occurring in their business settings.

As time went on, I received a Rockefeller Fellowship which allowed me to develop a capstone class on the interaction of business, economics, government and democracy sometime in the mid-2000s. The department then allowed me to develop a law and economics  elective class, which I really enjoyed teaching.

When Thomas Donley (now interim dean of the business college) became chair, he decided to reconstruct the master's program in economics, and I was able to join him and Associate Professor Gabriella Bucci in developing the new MS program in Economics and Policy Analysis which prompted me to develop ECO 517: The Public Policy, Business, and Ethical Environment of the Government. It also allowed me to change my status from an adjunct to a visiting professor at Tom's invitation, which was quite an honor and something I will always be grateful for.

Do you have a favorite memory at DePaul that you would like to share?

My favorite memory has to be taking one of my first graduate classes to Washington, D.C., and meeting with the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in his embassy with my students.  We entered the embassy and had to check our phones and all electronics and then were escorted to the sitting room which was a rectangular room of 300 square feet filled with antiques and furniture from Saudi Arabia—worthy of any museum. When the ambassador walked in, he greeted each student and then took us to the dining room where he had refreshments waiting for us. The ambassador was trained at John Hopkins and knew more about democracy and the history of our country then I could ever imagine. For 30 minutes we discussed everything from the framers' intentions to the political climate in 2010 with the election of President Obama. I have never been so in awe of anyone's intellect and knowledge and I was in a daze conversing with him for those 30 minutes trying to keep up.

The students just observed as we went back and forth and afterwards, they all stated it was the best educational experience they ever had. In fact, my daughter who had joined us on the trip, said it was the only time in her entire life that she saw me flustered and nervous.  It was actually so exhilarating and although I was overmatched in intellect, I left the room with such a feeling of gratitude that my students and I were able to have such a unique exposure and to be in the presence of someone so articulate and knowledgeable. It should also be noted the ambassador became the Secretary of Finance for Saudi Arabia.

What are your plans for retirement?

Retirement means travel and travel and travel. I just came back from a hiking and biking trip to Zion and Bryce national parks and the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Next, I'll be going to Iceland for 10 days. I will also be playing in the 65 and over USTA tennis tournaments and of course a few rounds of golf. Once I  get over the first wave of travel, I do hope to come back to DePaul and teach ECO 517 and perhaps a section of my ICS course.

Do you plan to continue taking students to Washington, D.C.?

I hope to make it a yearly occurrence as I get so much enjoyment in opening up my network to the students and giving them a real practical view of what is occurring in D.C. as well as showing them the relationship between the business and political worlds, how lobbying really works and the value of networking.

When did you start taking students to Washington, D.C., and how did you come up with the idea?

I think it was around 2010 after having a class about how lobbying works in D.C. and how important it was to network. I was citing my own personal experiences and one of the students casually asked if it was possible to see me do lobbying in D.C. and meet the people I was describing, which included, at that time, Arne Duncan who was U.S. Secretary of Education.

I asked Thomas Donley (former chair of the Department of Economics), if he would be open to me doing a two-day field trip, to which he said yes, and then we found some money ​to pay for the accommodations and some of the expenses. Before you knew it, we had lined up multiple meetings which included senators, congressmen, lobbyists, executive branch officials, media and alumni. Each subsequent year the rosters grew and it became the gift that kept on giving over the years—not only for the students, but me too as it gave me a chance to reconnect and keep relationships going.

What will you miss most about teaching full-time at DePaul?

What I will miss most is learning from the students. Teaching in a Socratic method with open-ended discussions, I was pretty good at getting the students to share their experiences and views. You would be surprised what I was able to learn, especially regarding technology and their culture that was evolving over the last 12 years—although, I still don't get rap music.