F&M Stories

Post-Soviet Memories Shaped Professor’s Path

Yeva Nersisyan was just a child in Armenia when the Soviet Union collapsed, but the following turmoil shaped her life’s work. 

Amid Soviet dissolution in 1991, war erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh border region. Unemployment and poverty rates soared. At times, access to electricity and water was limited to just two hours a day. 

“Growing up there, I thought, ‘There's something that must be done – or can be done – about this,’” said Nersisyan, associate professor of economics and Department of Economics chair at Franklin & Marshall College.

The answer, Nersisyan discovered, can be traced to the study of economics.  

“How do you improve people's livelihoods? How do you make sure that there is no shortage of jobs, no poverty? How do you fight the inequality?” she asked. 

Nersisyan’s research draws on Modern Money Theory (also called Modern Monetary Theory) to explain how governments find money for their spending – from war, to health-care reform, to climate change. 

She will expand on this research at a Nov. 9 Common Hour lecture titled, “How Are You Going to Pay For It?” The lecture, in F&M's Barshinger Center at 11:30 a.m., is open to the public. A recording will be made available after the event.

What else influenced Nersisyan’s academic path, and what advice does she have for current students? Learn more below.

"The 16-year old me had to decide what she wanted to do: Which field do I go into to try to make people's lives better? Economics seemed like the natural field."

Yeva Nersisyan

Tell us about your academic journey. Why did you choose to study economics? What inspired you to become a professor?

In Armenia, you have to pick what field you're studying right out of high school. The 16-year-old me had to decide what she wanted to do: Which field do I go into to try to make people's lives better? Economics seemed like the natural field. 

Interestingly, I was awarded a government fellowship to come to the United States for a year as an exchange student. They sent me to the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) to study free market economics to benefit post-Soviet countries. But, they sent me to one of the very few places in the U.S. where I could study what's called “heterodox economics” (economic theories that diverge from mainstream principles). UMKC is one of the four or five schools in the U.S. where you can study these ideas and it also happened to be the hub of Modern Money Theory, an economic perspective that emphasizes the study of money.

I finished my undergraduate work at Yerevan State University (Yerevan, Armenia) and UMKC offered me an assistantship. I started as a master's degree student and then moved on to a doctorate.

My father was a university professor of chemistry, so I always saw myself going in that direction. I always liked explaining things. Even when I was a kid, I would try to explain things to my sister and my cousins. They weren't always receptive. [Laughing]. 

I liked the teaching side of it a lot, which is why I ended up at a liberal arts college.

Do you have any advice for students unsure of which field of study to choose?

F&M and liberal arts colleges give you the option of exploring. This is your opportunity to explore. Try to find things that you like, even if you don't necessarily pursue that as a major or in any formal way. You’re not going to have this experience ever again. Even if you go to graduate school, it's going be very specialized. So explore and take advantage of the resources. You have professors who want to answer your questions, that you can sit with and have a conversation about the economy or whatever your field is.

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