Fresno State professors Sasan Fayazmanesh, Emil Milevoj, and Elizabeth Shields returned in November from a visit to Armenia, where they were working with faculty from the Faculty of Business of Yerevan State University. Following are their impressions of their visit, in their own words.
Visiting Yerevan State University in mid-November I reminisced with Armenian colleagues from the Department of Economics about the great changes that have taken place there over the past five years.
When I first visited the department in 1999 it was housed in a dilapidated building far from the main campus. Students walked down muddy pot-holed roads to classes. Classes stopped in early December and resumed in March because there was no heat in the building. The computer lab consisted of half a dozen ancient machines running on MS-DOS. The fact that so many faculty and students worked in these conditions spoke volumes about their dedication to higher education.
At that time, economics and business courses were attracting increased attention from the top high school graduates who had previously been drawn to the technological areas of physics, engineering, and mathematics. As job opportunities in the ‘hard’ sciences dried up students sought to develop skills than would serve them in the new market economy. Thanks to the farsighted leadership in the department faculty members had enrolled in microeconomics and macroeconomics courses at the American University of Armenia in 1993 and 1994 and were already restructuring the curriculum and course work to introduce their students to market-based economic theory and business principles.
Simultaneously the introduction of the Newly Independent States (NIS) University and College Partnership Program provided an opportunity for faculty members from the Craig School of Business and the Department of Economics at Fresno State to collaborate with their counterparts at Yerevan State to further strengthen the curriculum and to provide support for teaching and research. Money was also available to improve computer and other technological resources.
L. to R.: Dean Hayk Sargsyan, Dr. Grigor Gharibyan, Dr. Anna Karapetyan, Emil Milevoj, Elizabeth Shields, Lusine Grigoryan, Dr. Sasan Fayazmanesh, and Harutyun Marzpanyan at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Faculty of Economics at Yerevan State University.
Since 2000 eighteen faculty member and administrators have visited Fresno to work on improving their curriculum and coursework, to discuss research activities, to observe our teaching methods, and to become more knowledgeable about our higher education system. Some faculty members whose initial visits overseas were through the NIS Partnership Program with Fresno have gone on to seek funding for further study abroad and worked in other universities. Faculty members from Fresno have visited Yerevan and presented seminars and workshops in economics, marketing, information systems, finance and human resource management. Students from both campuses have collaborated on projects. This interchange of ideas and culture has enriched all the participants.
The most significant curricular change has been the introduction of an entirely new Management Information System program at Yerevan under the guidance of Dr. Sasan Rahmatian of the ISDS Department at Fresno State. This new program is already very popular with students who recognize the software development and computer systems management is one way in which Armenia which has few natural resources and is entirely land-locked can compete in a global economy. Other changes within existing programs include the introduction of marketing and distribution courses, human resource management courses, and modern financial management courses.
Shortly after my initial visit the Department of Economics moved to renovated quarters on Abovian Street in the center of Yerevan close to the main campus. Now students gather in bright airy classrooms. They can surf the Internet on any of 100 state-of-the-art computers provided by funds from the NIS Partnership Project between Fresno State and Yerevan State, and the Caucasus Region Resource Center funded by the Eurasia Foundation.
In addition to the new computer resources great strides have been made in curriculum and course work development. Teaching no longer means dictating pages of notes to students who have no access to textbooks. Faculty members have adopted the latest teaching techniques and support for new course presentations, student workbooks, teaching manuals and other teaching tools has been provided by the Partnership Project with Fresno State. Interactive exercises, case studies, debates and student presentations now comprise many of the classroom activities.
Now attention has turned to the task of keeping these intelligent, well educated young people in Armenia after graduation. Jobs are still scarce and information about job openings is difficult to find. With this in mind a proposal is now being developed to set up a Career Center at Yerevan State University that would serve the needs of all students including those in the Department of Economics. Such a center would help students understand the needs of employers. It would bridge the gap between employers and graduates by providing information on job opportunities and acting as a resume repository for graduates at both the Master’s and Bachelor’s levels.
It has been exciting to watch the progress that had been made in the Department of Economics since 1999, to see the growth in faculty expertise and self-confidence, to sit in the computer lab and have instant access to information from around the world, and to observe students developing decision-making skills where once they would have been reluctant to make decisions.
Armenians have endured hard economic times since independence but their resilience has carried them through once again. I sensed an air of optimism on the campus and in the streets. Many service businesses are starting up, construction is booming, real estate prices are rising, and new cars are creating traffic jams on the main boulevards – sounds like the recipe for a growing economy that will provide jobs for the graduates of the Department of Economics.