Julide Yazar: Welch Meritorious Teaching Award winner
Julide Yazar can help improve your poker game, your business acumen, and maybe even interactions with your spouse.
Game theory is the focus of one of the three classes Yazar, the Charles L. and Elizabeth Quay Merwin Associate Professor of Economics, is teaching this year. It examines how the actions of others affect our decision-making.
Yazar describing game theory begins with a pencil sketch on paper, as she succinctly explains the business decisions of two ice cream vendors on a beach. They set up on opposite ends, each cornering his own market. Then one vendor inches closer to the other’s territory, to secure his market and edge into the competition’s. The competition adjusts. The rival adjusts. They inch closer and closer together, until, at last, they have reached a point in the middle, next to each other, that is profitable for both.
Game theory recognizes that our choices depend not only on our own decisions, but also on decisions made by the people we interact with, and it analyzes how we make choices in these settings. “I strategize and counter-strategize in a game every week with my husband, each of us deciding how much to contribute to housecleaning and other chores,” Yazar says, only sort of kidding.
Yazar, who came to Ohio Wesleyan in 1999, is the 2016 recipient of the Herbert Welch Meritorious Teaching Award. The winner is chosen by the Faculty Personnel Committee and receives a stipend. The award is presented at commencement to a faculty member who has made significant contributions to the academic climate at Ohio Wesleyan University.
For those not fortunate enough to take a class from Yazar, just a few minutes with her makes clear why she is such a favorite. She dances around between subjects in a lively manner, careful not to lose the listener, as she literally illustrates a concept. She is precise, as one might expect from an economist, but also warm and funny, as one might expect from an OWU professor.
Among OWU’s international students and faculty, she has a particularly unique background, coming from Turkey by way of Imperial College London. She is also a ballet dancer. So perhaps it is no coincidence that she describes teaching a class as a “performance.” She studied at a conservatory in Turkey and taught ballet for years after coming to the States, fitting classes around her studies and teaching. The precise positioning of the classic style of dance, with its rigid rules, appealed to the same part of her that economic theory does.
“We are faced with strategic interactions every day of our lives. For me to figure out what I’m going to do, I have to guess what you’re going to do,” Yazar explains, although one gets the impression that somehow this keen observer has the edge.
For a game theorist like Yazar, examples of games are everywhere, from the business that opens next to a rival, to bidding on eBay, to the selection of plays in a football game. Game theorists abstract away common elements from everyday problems and study the resulting stylized games using mathematical tools, providing insights into settings where humans engage strategically, with applications to biology, business, and, of course, economics.
Yazar presented a talk on game theory in politics before the election last fall. Just as the ice cream vendors maintain a geographic advantage by moving toward consumer density in the center, “It’s the same exact effect which also encourages political candidates in general elections to move to the center of the political spectrum with populist agenda, rather than appealing to their base,” Yazar says. But, she acknowledges with a knowing look, that talk might h ave to be retired for a while.
– Molly Vogel