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Women in Economics: Daria Sevastianova

Daria Sevastianova | St. Louis Fed

This 20-minute podcast was released Jan. 29, 2020.

“This is the one science that helps to explain my world and my experience the most,” says Daria Sevastianova, associate professor of economics at the University of Southern Indiana. She talks with Maria Hasenstab, media relations coordinator at the St. Louis Fed, about being raised in Eastern Europe, her graduate studies in the economics of conflict, and how she mentors the next generation of economists.

Also, St. Louis Fed Economic Education Coordinator Scott Wolla interviews students from the University of Southern Indiana’s Women in Economics Club.



Transcript:

Maria Hasenstab: Hello, I’m Maria Hasenstab, and you’re listening to Women in Economics, a podcast series from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Today we have a special live recording at the University of Southern Indiana’s Women in Economics Club. I’m joined today by Daria Sevastianova, an associate professor of economics here at the University of Southern Indiana. In addition, we have a roomful of undergraduate and graduate students who are studying economics. Welcome.

I’m also joined by Scott Wolla, coordinator of Economic Education at the St. Louis Fed. In a little bit, Scott’s going to be talking to a few members of the Women in Economics Club to find out why you’re studying economics and what you hope to get out of the club.

But first, I’d like to learn a little bit more about you, Daria, the creator of this Women in Economics Club. Hi, Daria.

Daria Sevastianova: Hello.

Hasenstab: Thanks for joining us today.

Sevastianova: Thank you for being here.

Hasenstab: Daria, how long have you been teaching here at the University of Southern Indiana?  And I’d love to quickly learn a little bit more about your path to economics. How did you choose economics and how did you end up teaching economics here?

Sevastianova: I’ve been at USI for 12 years now. I came in 2007, right after completing my Ph.D. in Economics. My path took a while, I think, to develop and for me to truly understand what attracts me to economics. I would say my personal connection is actually the fact that I was born and raised in Eastern Europe during very turbulent times. And I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, and how the Soviet Union fell apart, and how, basically, Soviet regimes collapsed. There was a wave of revolutions in Eastern Europe.

So, to me, this is the one science that helps to explain my world and my experience the most. And, so, it’s helpful in that sense. I understand it’s just one perspective and we certainly don’t have all the answers in economics today. But it was very appealing because of its ability to explain my life experience.

I didn’t study economics in college actually, it was political science. And then I worked for Pennsylvania state government. I did notice that professional economists in my surrounding were people with what I call high order thinking, so that was very appealing. I think that, ultimately, is what inspired me to study economics at the graduate level, because I wanted to be able to write and speak so concisely, the way that economists did.

I had a very inspiring dissertation adviser, Professor Sal (Solomon) Polachek at SUNY-Binghamton (Binghamton University State University of New York), who further helped me to fine tune my interests in graduate school in economics of conflict. I had the privilege of being a T.A. for a few years, so I fell in love with teaching then and I realized that an academic job was the right way to go for me.

Today it sort of informs my world view and my connection with people. I’m very lucky to have all these talented ladies in economics here at USI. So, I think it’s worked out great.

Hasenstab: Thank you for sharing that. Why do you think it’s important for more women in underrepresented minorities to enter the field of economics?

Sevastianova: Well, maybe this is a trivial approach to the question, but women are half of every society. So, if we’re not hearing their voices, then we’re really missing out on all of the contributions and all of the perspectives that we ought to have when we approach any problem; when we decide on policies as societies. So, to that extent, men and women and minorities, they all matter. And I think economics is just one pathway. Because with our economics training, we can go into government positions, business positions, be leaders, be policy-makers and just have a better society as a result of that. So, we can only have a complete discipline and a well-functioning society if we’re all represented, so women are very important to that.

Hasenstab: What challenges have you faced as a woman in economics?  And how have you overcome them?

Sevastianova: You know, this is a very interesting question. I really never thought there were so many challenges. Maybe I’m lucky because my mother is an academic and a very strong woman. And she just kind of taught me how to solve problems and love challenges. So, I think my upbringing, again, is important here. But I was also international student in undergrad and graduate school. That’s a whole other set of challenges to overcome and how to ultimately be an immigrant, you know, and figure out your path in a foreign country.

I’ve also been lucky to work with excellent men who are always very supportive and very professional. I didn’t know that economics had a problem. I had wonderful friends in graduate school and my mentor and my dissertation advisor were always more than supportive.

It was actually in 2017, when The Economist published an article about the economics problem with gender, and only then did I learn that it was only a third of women who were econ majors in college and also in economics careers. And that it was actually a very vibrant line of research. And, so, it’s exciting to see that the issue is getting so much attention.

And thanks to this Women in Economics initiative by the Fed with the podcast series and the symposia that you host, we’re getting so much wonderful coverage. And it’s a great opportunity for our students also to see accomplished female economists and to have role models in their lives. And I almost think it’s actually—the problem is an opportunity for us today. It’s a great time to be a woman in economics. You get more attention. Companies set out to hire women. Think of it as your advantage.

I know I had success on the job market, I would say, because I was a foreign-born woman. And, so, a lot of universities wanted to talk to me. So, that’s my positive take on this challenge. And I know things are changing a little slowly in economics, even compared to other STEM disciplines, but I’m very optimistic.

Hasenstab: That’s a great approach. What some people are calling a challenge, to look at it as an opportunity. That’s a really positive outlook.

Daria, talk to me about the importance of being a mentor. Do you mentor students?  Did any instructors in your life serve as mentors or role models?  Who helped you pursue a career in economics?

Sevastianova: Yes. So, mentor is sort of a big word to me. I think there are certainly formal and informal ways to mentor. In my life, in terms of formal mentoring, I think I benefited most, again, from my dissertation advisors, from Professor Polachek’s help, who helped me figure out to become an economist. And then, you know, we contemplated questions like, “What do I want to do with my life?”  Because I had to decide how to go on the job market.

Today I think I really just appreciate the good relationships that I have with my colleagues and my superiors here in the Business College at USI. My department chair, Sudesh Mujumdar, now I realize that was a mentorship-type relationship. He certainly empowered me to pursue things that I value.

Once I earned tenure, I had that opportunity to consider how I can better contribute to this university. And, so, he got fully behind my desire to develop a study abroad program with our sister city, with Osnabrück. So, that’s been fantastic. That’s created such a good connection with students. For me, that’s sometimes far more personal and special than just the regular classroom instruction that sort of, you know, goes by every semester very quickly. Also, in my role as the Center for Economic Education director, I was able to broaden my list of responsibilities and have more contact with students.

But so having a good chair matters. Having a supportive dean matters. Surely, those people are mentors. Having colleagues—I have a male colleague who is very successful at recruiting women into economics. I have a colleague whose experiments examine gender differences in decision making. That’s as far as my own relationships with who I think are mentors and inspirations.

With the students, I would also emphasize, these are just organic relationships that are very meaningful and very enjoyable. We’re talking about students who just drop by to talk to me. I don’t think of it as me mentoring somebody. Sometimes it just looks like, you know, they’re eating cookies or pretzel sticks in my office. It’s just fun. It’s just fun talking to these students.

But I certainly want to give back, because I’ve benefitted from so much support from male role models and mentors that I want to do what I can and help. You know, not just here with the course selections and the study abroad offerings, but also talking about careers, talking about life, talking about family, just anything at all. I think these are the relationships that I truly cherish.

Hasenstab: Thank you for sharing that. Daria, talk to me about the Women in Economics Club.

Sevastianova: So, I’ve taken two groups of female economics majors and minors to the Women in Economics Symposium at the Fed. And, so, I noticed—so the drive to St. Louis is about 2-1/2 hours on the bus. So, we sort of have a captive audience there. It was actually very exciting, both on the way to and back. And I noticed how we all just start talking and people realize that these are their fellow economics majors. They know each other and we can exchange phone numbers and just meet up and hang out. It’s important to identify who we are.

At the Symposium, the importance of creating a network of women was also explained by some of the speakers on the panel. So, I think it’s long overdue that we have such a club.

So, the final push, or inspiration I should say, was when Scott Wolla contacted me this summer and I was in Germany with my study abroad crowd. And it became very clear this was our opportunity to begin such a club. I think it’s fantastic. And it’s, of course, always with strong student leadership. And we had volunteers in that classroom in Osnabrück. Emily agreed to be the club president. We quickly filled the positions in the club and followed through with the paperwork upon our return, so now it’s official.

And I think ultimately not only for us to support one another as women, but also for the men to support us, and for us to support them. And just to have an inclusive, strong discipline is what ultimately the goal should be here.

Hasenstab: We’ll stay tuned to see what great things the Women in Economic Club here does. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Daria.

Sevastianova: Thank you.

Hasenstab: Now I’d like to throw it to Scott Wolla who, like you said, he created the Women in Economics Symposium at the St. Louis Fed back in 2018.

Scott Wolla: Thank you, Maria. As Maria mentioned earlier, I’m on the Economic Education Team at the St. Louis Fed. We at the St. Louis Fed started the Women in Economics Symposium in 2018 to draw attention to the issue, but also to make sure that young women knew about careers in economics. Some of you attended those symposia. And it was really exciting for us to see the level of excitement that you had.

So, today I’d like to interview a few members of the Women in Economics Club. So why don’t you take a minute and just introduce yourself to the audience?

Emily Bacon: I’m Emily Bacon. I’m the President and co-founder of the Women in Economics Club.

Wolla: Thank you very much for making time to talk to us today. Tell me a little bit about your decision to be part of the Women in Economics Club and tell me a little bit about your desire to be a leader in this organization, too.

Bacon: I thought that it was a really exciting opportunity to, first of all, become more involved, but also take on this leadership position and be kind of an outstanding woman in economics, because that is what I want to do. And, yeah, I just thought it was a really cool opportunity.

Wolla: That’s great. So, tell me about your choice to study economics.

Bacon: I was really inspired by some of my professors here, both Dr. Burnett and Dr. Sevastianova. The intelligence and poise that they had in classes.

Wolla: So, what do you find attractive about Women in Economics Club? If you were going to talk to a prospect about why they should join the club, how would you describe it?

Bacon: Economics is such a broad degree. There’s a lot that you can do with it. A lot of times it’s depicted as something that women aren’t necessarily capable of doing. I think people consider it to be more of, like, a math-type science, where it’s really not. It’s more of a social science, which is something that drew me to it. And I think that it’s important that women, especially, have a network of people to be able to connect with that are similar to them and that share interests. This club is a great way to do that and to build networks and connections.

Wolla: So, do you know what you want to do after school?

Bacon: I don’t. I know I want to do something impactful and I know I want to be inspiring, but still trying to figure out my path to get there.

Wolla: Well, thank you very much for your time—

Bacon: Thank you.

Wolla: . . . and for joining the club and leading the club.

Katelyn Knoll: My name’s Katelyn Knoll. I am a senior economics major here at USI, and really excited to see the Women in Econ Club jumpstart here.

Wolla: So, why did you join the Women in Economics Club?  And what value do you think it has for your colleagues on this campus?

Knoll: I think it brings a lot of attention to the major in general, and making it a more attractive option for young freshmen who maybe don’t want to get into a field where it’s dominated by men. Well, now they have a club where they can look to for other leaders and mentors, and just a positive impact for all of us to have a power in numbers and have someone to go to and inspiring them.

Wolla: So, do you know what you want to do after school?

Knoll: So, I am looking into the master’s program at the University of Cincinnati. And then, after that, hard to say. I’ve looked into work at the Federal Reserve, for sure, but maybe get my Ph.D. and come back and teach somewhere.

Wolla: That’s great. Yep. Keep the Fed on your radar screen.

Cybele Lynn-Colon: My name is Cybele Lynn-Colon. I am a senior at the University of Southern Indiana. I am 21 years old.

Wolla: So, what drew you to economics?

Lynn-Colon: Actually, Daria is the one who inspired me to become an economics major because I started out as a business administration major. And, so, she convinced me to come to the Women’s Symposium in the Federal Reserve. And just hearing everyone’s stories and just seeing the support and the inspiration, I just thought like, “I can actually do this.” Like, “I’m capable of this.” So, I decided to become an economics major.

Wolla: That’s great.

Wolla: Do you know what you’d like to do after school?

Lynn-Colon: I am going to further my education. I am looking into master’s program at the University of Cincinnati and the University of Binghamton where Daria and my mother went. So, yeah, I’m just looking into that right now. But after the Master’s program, I don’t know. I might further my education, or I might look for other jobs.

Wolla: That’s great. Thank you very much.

Charlie Peters: My name’s Charlie Peters. I’m a senior here at USI.

Wolla: So, what drew you to economics?

Peters: So whenever I started here at USI, I was actually an electrical engineering major. And the reason that I decided to go into engineering was because I liked problem solving. And I realized, after I took my first microeconomics class, that economics was problem solving. And it wasn’t as much of the hands on work that I was doing in engineering, but it was more of the analytical problem solving that I appreciated and enjoyed.

Wolla: That’s great. Why did you join the Women in Economics Club?

Peters: I joined the Women in Economics Club because in my previous employment through internships, I realized that there wasn’t a lot of women in my area. And it’s very important to have those connections that you’re able to make with people that you already know. And by having an organization like this on campus with women that are very like-minded to you, it is something that you can take into the workforce with you after school.

Wolla: That’s great.

Kristen Beever: Hi, my name is Kristen Beever. I am a senior here at USI. I’m an economics major. I chose economics because I know it shows employers that you’re a better critical thinker. It’s important to have those financial numbers, accounting kind of stuff. But to be able to critically think is something that I think sets yourself apart from other people. Because that’s a skill that’s kind of diminishing in younger people.

Wolla: That’s great. Thanks for sharing.

Elle Floyd: My name is Elle Floyd and I am a graduate from the University of Southern Indiana. I graduated at the end of April in 2018 with my Bachelor of Science in Economics and here I am today. I’m a graduate assistant back here in the Advising Center of our Business College, and I’m really excited to be here.

Wolla: That’s great, thank you. So, what drew you to economics?

Floyd: Yeah, so, I have a similar story as some of the other ladies who are here today, where I kind of got started in some field and didn’t know really what I wanted to do. But I knew I wanted to make an impact. It took a long time. I had four majors in college before I finally settled on economics. But I really just loved the, the way that economics allows you to look at the world and solve problems. It’s not just sitting behind a desk or being a pencil pusher or whatever you want to call it. It’s really solving problems and helping people, so I really wanted to pursue that.

Wolla: That’s great. And I’m glad you’re excited about economics. I think it’s a great field. So, why did you join the Women in Economics Club?

Floyd: So, it’s great to be here with all of these women who are economics majors. And it is just really inspiring to be here and to see all of these ladies getting to meet each other and support each other, and learn together. And it’s really awesome to hear everyone’s stories and see where everyone goes next. Because I really think that all of you in this room, and those of you listening, are really the change makers in this world. And I think you’re going to do really awesome stuff, so I’m excited to see what’s next.

Wolla: That’s great. So, do you know what you want to do after school?

Floyd: So, I have been out of my undergrad program for a little over a year now. And I spent the first half of this year traveling in Asia and the Middle East, teaching English in universities, and really loved it. I am not an economist, so to speak, but I found a way to use analytical thinking, problem solving and really equipping people to change their world by using English education. I committed to serve overseas in China starting in the fall of 2020. So, I’m here for a year now and I’m getting my master’s degree in second language acquisition policy and culture from here at the university.

Wolla: That’s great.

Hasenstab: To the students here at the University of Southern Indiana and to Daria, thank you so much for your time today. It has been inspiring to hear your stories and you are truly the future of women in economics.

To hear more Women in Economics podcasts, visit stlouisfed.org/womeninecon. That’s one word. Stlouisfed.org/womeninecon. You can also stream the Women in Economics Podcast Series on Apple Podcast, Spotify and Stitcher, or ask your Amazon device "Alexa, play Women in Economics from Tunein.”  Thanks so much for listening.