Commencement 2012 – URI student marries environmental economics with writing for unique career path

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Bristol resident to graduate from URI on May 20

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 7, 2012 – John Otterbein enrolled at the University of Rhode Island four years ago with a passion for the environment and a desire to write. He ended up as one of the top students in a discipline he didn’t even know existed – environmental economics.

The Bristol resident will graduate from URI on May 20.

“I like how environmental economics combines aspects of the environment and economy to find a middle ground,” said Otterbein. “We live in a world of economics already, so to find out how much the environment is worth, we have to put a value to it. If a scenic view makes your day better, then you can put a value on it. How much is it worth to you?”

Otterbein said that the field of environmental economics doesn’t provide a final answer to the questions asked, but it provides information about all sides of an issue so that those involved can come to a conclusion.

While pursuing his bachelor’s degree in environmental economics, he decided to earn a minor in writing, an activity he began at a young age when he wrote short stories for fun. He combined his two academic disciplines during his senior year at URI when he worked as an environmental journalism intern at, an environmental news website.

“I wanted to see if writing was something I should pursue as a career,” said Otterbein, who competed on the URI swim team and won four state championships as a member of the Hendricken High School swim team. “I figured I should try it out before going out into the real world.”

He wrote articles on such topics as biofuels, fisheries, marine science, and the local food movement. He is presently writing a series of stories about the hydroponics industry in Rhode Island.

“John is unusual in marrying his skills and interest in writing with a very quantitative and technical field like environmental economics,” said URI Assistant Professor Emi Uchida. “It is not often that you find someone who can tell a story so nicely in words and solve a complex fisheries equation all in the same sitting. He really represents that next generation of resource manager that is going to be amazingly effective.”

As Otterbein looks toward graduation, he hasn’t yet settled on how best to merge his two academic disciplines into a career. He is examining possibilities at engineering companies, government agencies, non-profit groups, and others.

“The cool thing about environmental economics is that it’s needed in so many different fields that you wouldn’t think would need it,” he said. “The energy industry, transportation, the department of agriculture, anywhere that addresses sustainable development.

“My experience at URI has been really good, and I’ve gotten a nice full circle understanding of things. I look forward to putting what I’ve learned to work,” he added.

Commencement Information