By Brooke Schultz
Dr. Andy Helms, associate professor of economics, is remembered for his thoughtfulness, his attention to detail, and his colored chalk tucked in a cigarette case.
“He would walk out of his classroom covered in sweat and covered in colored chalk dust,” said Dr. Lisa Daniels, Hodson Trust professor of economics. “In his own statement about teaching, research, and service to become tenured, he commented on all that himself, that it was his badge of honor to come out covered in all different colors of chalk.”
Dr. Helms, 44, died the week of Nov. 13. The College community was notified via email Friday, Nov. 17. Services will be held Wednesday, Dec. 20 at Light Street Presbyterian Church, 809 Light St., Baltimore. Services are open to the public.
Dr. Helms came to Washington College in 2008 after earning his PhD in economics from the University of Illinois in 2002. He taught intermediate microeconomics and urban economics, which was his area of expertise.
“Dr. Helms touched many people’s lives, including faculty, staff, administration, and mostly students,” said Dr. Brian Scott, associate professor of economics and environmental science and studies. “He added style, flair, and little extra touches to everything. He was conscientious, eloquent, and elegant. And he had a fascination with a particular squirrel, which would often show up in his tests.”
“He was brilliant,” said Dr. Robert Lynch, economics professor. “I sat in on his classes a couple of times when I was chair and one thing I noticed was he was able to describe very complex issues in a manner that was exceptionally clear. I remember hearing one student say to another, ‘This stuff isn’t that complicated.’ Oh yes, it is. But he does such a good job explaining it that it doesn’t sound complicated.”
That, said Dr. Adalbert Mayer, chair of economics, came from Dr. Helms’s attention to detail — something reflected in when Dr. Helms dropped off a basket of food for Dr. Mayer and his wife when they were expecting their first child.
“Other people dropped by food, too, but his was more of an art installation,” Dr. Mayer said.
It came with an assortment of dishes with labels, extra spices included in a separate container, and stickers that explained the menu.
“I think that’s exemplary of him as a person; he was just very thoughtful and detail-oriented,” Dr. Mayer said. “I think it translated over to his teaching.”
He said that he had read some of Dr. Helms’s exams and it was clear that Dr. Helms was thoughtful with “every little thing in that exam.”
“He was a very methodical and meticulous teacher,” said Dr. Mook Lim, assistant professor of economics. “It was amazing how much detail he put into making his lesson plans, handouts, and exams. His attention to detail was incomparable. I am sure his students can attest to this.”
That consideration of detail trickled down to something as small as a pen. Dr. Helms designed his own for his students.
With four different color settings, the pen was designed to help students design their graphs, because, “The world isn’t black and white. Economic models shouldn’t be, either,” according to the inscription on the pen.
“I tell students to use colors, it helps you, that’s it. He provides you the pen and guides them through it,” Dr. Mayer said.
“He was a great colleague — really fun to have in the department,” Dr. Daniels said. “Students would say they would take another Helms course. It was like he had his own brand, his own style of teaching.”
She also described him as enthusiastic.
“What I’ve heard students say, if they’re making fun of professors, they would imitate him by going on the balls of their feet because most of the time, he’d be in the air, on his feet, and come back down,” she said. “He’d have all this enthusiasm, students would say was contagious.”
Outside of the classroom, Dr. Helms’s scholarship is far-reaching. His article “Understanding Gentrification: An Empirical Analysis of the Determinants of Urban Housing Renovation” in the Journal of Urban Economics — a top journal in Dr. Helms’s field — is widely cited, including at least 18 citations, such as the Oxford Handbook of Urban Economics and Planning, several other books, and top-10 peer-reviewed journals.
When Dr. Helms was first interviewing for the position nearly a decade ago, Dr. Clayton Black, associate professor of history, was struck by his enthusiasm for his research.
“He made a very good impression,” he said. “He really has this very endearing quality about him — he smiled a lot, he spoke enthusiastically — he just sort of made you want to listen to what he had to say.”
Dr. Black worked with Dr. Helms on the faculty council when he acted as moderator and Dr. Helms acted as secretary.
“He and I hit it off,” he said. “He was a real gem to work with.”
In addition to his work with the faculty council, Dr. Helms also served on the Honor Board.
“It’s a very difficult committee,” said Dr. Patrice DiQuinzio, provost and dean of the College. “It’s hard. You have to make really difficult decisions. He was always focused on if someone had done something wrong, ‘will this help the student, will it help them learn?’ He was very focused on what was good for students as well.”
Beyond campus, Dr. Helms was an accomplished foodie, was excellent at bass guitar, and a fan of cars.
At social functions, like faculty dinner at the start of the academic year, or the annual Christmas party, Dr. Black said that you tend to gravitate to certain people — those who you liked, and wanted to be around.
“Andy was always somebody you’d gravitate to,” he said.