Obituary: Steven Klepper / CMU economics professor took a different approach

Jan, 24, 1949 - May 27, 2013


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Steven Klepper's style of teaching introductory economics to freshmen at Carnegie Mellon University was so distinct that it became known over the years on campus as "Kleppernomics." And, students who didn't perform well on their first exams in his class were invited to a meeting in his office during which they would be "Klepperized."

"He called students in one-by-one and sat them down at his table in his office and asked them how they prepared for their exam, to what extent they took notes, whether they had done their problem sets themselves and then he made a diagnosis. It was quite a sight to see," said David Hounshell, the David M. Roderick Professor of Technology and Social Change in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, who was a long-time friend and colleague of Mr. Klepper.

Mr. Klepper, 64, who was the Arthur Arton Hamerschlag Professor of Economics and Social Science at CMU's Dietrich College, died May 27 at his Squirrel Hill home from complications of melanoma.

In addition to his dedicated teaching style, Mr. Klepper was known for his research into the evolution of industries, including the automobile, tire, television, semi-conductor and laser industries.

"He was a specialist in the history and evolution of how industries are born and develop and mature and decline," Mr. Hounshell said.

For that work, Mr. Klepper in 2011 received the Global Award for Entrepreneurship Research from the Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum, the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, and the Research Institute of Industrial Economics.

His work on innovation and the birth of new industries was cited by the committees as a reason for the award, which is said to be one of the most respected on entrepreneurship research prizes. He received a prize worth $136,000.

That award was among numerous others he received, most of which were for outstanding teaching including the William H. and Frances S. Ryan Award for Meritorious Teaching, CMU's highest teaching honor.

Mr. Klepper held a bachelor's and master's degrees, and a Ph.D in economics, all from Cornell University. He began his career as a professor of economics at SUNY Buffalo. In 1980, he moved to Pittsburgh to accept a teaching position at CMU.

In his 40 years of teaching, he never missed a day of work. Mr. Hounshell said Mr. Klepper's last semester of teaching was the fall of 2012 after which he took a leave in order to receive treatment for his illness. He had hoped to return this fall.

In his research, Mr. Klepper wasn't satisfied with standard statistical analysis and data, but instead sought out obscure and extraordinary sources, colleagues said.

Likewise, when he started his teaching career, he wasn't satisfied with any of the available textbooks so he wrote his own and "he always tried to incorporate into his classes what was taking place in the economy," Mr. Hounshell said.

"Steven Klepper was a brilliant researcher. His work challenged generations of young economists and entrepreneurs to look beyond the traditional assumptions. He was an equally devoted educator and countless students were inspired by his introductory course, which became known as Kleppernomics. His contributions were astounding and he leaves behind a lasting legacy," said CMU Provost and Executive Vice President Mark. S. Kamlet in a statement.

In 1993, Mr. Klepper founded the Consortium for Competitiveness and Collaboration, an international gathering of advanced graduate students and faculty in strategy, innovation and the economics of change.

At the March 2013 gathering, the 30th year of the event, Mr. Klepper was honored with presentations highlighting his lifetime body of scholarly work.

In 2006, he created a university-wide minor in entrepreneurship and innovation and also served as director of CMU's Institute for the Study of Entrepreneurship Innovation and Technological Change.

In addition to his professional accomplishments, Mr. Klepper was a devoted father to his daughter, Arielle, and son, Julian, both now of New York City, said his wife, Florence Rouzier.

Ms. Rouzier said she has received notes from more than 30 of her husband's former students telling her how profoundly he affected their lives.

"He had energy and wisdom and passion and loyalty," Ms. Rouzier said. A memorial service was held Wednesday. Memorial contributions may be made to the Crossroads Foundation, 2915 Webster Ave., Pittsburgh, Pa., 15219.

obituaries

Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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