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Jonathan Ketcham: Sharing great ideas

Faculty Sketch

With a dad who has a PhD in theology, and a mom who taught computer information systems and wrote textbooks at Baylor University, Jonathan Ketcham had a pretty good idea what he was signing up for when he entered academia.

“Honestly, I’m just a research nerd,” Jonathan says. “My job requires creativity, analytical skills, good writing, and math. It’s fun to start with a blank document and end up with 70 pages of new knowledge.”

As the Earl G. and Gladys C. Davis Distinguished Research Professor in Business at W. P. Carey, Jonathan teaches both undergraduate marketing research and health care economics to MBAs.

“I enjoy having the undergraduates do long projects and having them share in the joy of the process and the outcomes of research,” he says.

“And teaching health care to the MBAs is fun because the issues affect all of us and we all bring our own experiences and perspectives to the dialogue.. It’s a class that requires a lot of work because the only constant in US health care is change, but it’s very invigorating. I love when students later tell me, ‘Remember talking about these things in class? I applied that at work’, or ‘It came up in an interview and I got the job.’ It’s really rewarding to know that what we do in the classroom together has such an immediate impact on their work.”

Jonathan’s main areas of research are in healthcare economics.

“The field has been around since the 1960s, but it was the Clinton health care debates in 1993 that inspired me. I was majoring in both economics and pre-med as an undergrad and I thought, ‘How can I put these things together in a new way?’ Practical, applied work appealed to me.”

Jonathan’s latest research is a collaboration with fellow W. P. Carey faculty members Nicolai Kuminoff and Kelly Bishop. They discovered that years of living with high air pollution causes dementia.

"Dementia substantially reduces people’s quality of life. Plus, there are huge health care costs and it impairs people’s financial decisions. If we can understand the cause, then we can guide policies that help people thrive. That’s our ultimate goal,” he says. “There’s a lot of scope for research to inform policy."

"I don’t think we researchers should be advocates, but we do need to work to get our discoveries to people who can use them," he says.

Jonathan has been at W. P. Carey for 13 years. Prior to that, he was a post-doc University of California, Berkeley. Jonathan received his PhD in health care economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

“I love my job, and if it didn’t exist, I would invent it” says Jonathan.

Professional

What have you learned on another job that you’ve applied at W. P. Carey School? That good work culture is invaluable.

What’s your favorite W. P. Carey School event? The first day of the semester. I love that buzz of energy that consumes campus.

Where is your “never fail” lunch spot on or near campus and what’s your favorite menu item? Engrained…lots of productive work meetings there and I always run into other faculty. I usually get the pizza or a poke bowl. Maybe someday I’ll go just for a dessert.

What was your first job and what did it teach you? One of my first jobs was in Crawford, Texas, at age 15. My job was to find holes in the sewer system. I rode in the back of a van, we’d stop at a manhole, I’d lift the cover, throw in a smoke bomb, close it, then identify the areas where smoke seeped thru the ground and mark where the holes were. It was great fun at the time, and probably a good analogy for much of my research career!

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore? I’ve always thought “Follow your passion” was not very helpful. Instead, know what you’re good at and use that to help people.

Personal

What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done? I rafted the Grand Canyon for six days. It’s its own separate little world. It was amazing.

If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? On a safari in Africa or to the Costa Rican rainforest.

If you could have one super power, what would it be? The ability to speak any language, every language, even to animals. Being able to make those connections, open those doors, create those meaningful moments; a language barrier really inhibits that.

What book can you read over and over? I’ve liked The Three Investigators series by Robert Arthur since I was eight years old. I wanted to be Jupiter Jones, “first investigator”.

What is something absurd or unusual that you love? Facts. When I was a kid, I used to read the almanac and Guinness Book of World Records religiously. I was even captain of my high school trivia team.

Preferences

Salty or sweet? Chocolatey
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Soda or energy drink? Protein shakes
Cat or dog? Dog
Truck or car? Car
Board games or video games? Board games
Fiction or non-fiction? Non-fiction
Facebook or face-to-face? Face-to-face
Breakfast or lunch? Lunch
Morning person or night owl? It depends.