Olga Malashenkova, having completed her PhD studies at the Belarusian State University, was a Fulbright Visiting Fellow in the Department of Economics at UNC-CH during the Fall 2022 semester. Here, Olga continued her research about ecosystems of startup development in the world, in the U.S., and in Belarus (which she started before the Russian invasion of Ukraine). While here, she also taught a section of ECON 101, increasing her teaching experience in a non-native language. (This interview was conducted on November 2, 2022.)
What was your educational and professional background before coming to UNC-CH as a Fulbright Visiting Fellow?
I received my PhD in Economics in 2009 in Belarus and have been doing research for the past few years for Dr. habil. accreditation (equivalent of full professor). My project as a Fulbright Visiting Fellow continues my research on venture capital investment and startups in the global economy. My professional experience includes teaching and management at Belarusian universities, management at universities in Belarus, as well as working as an expert for some governmental agencies and organizations in my country.
What field of study did you pursue for your dissertation work and how did you end up working in this area of economics?
My dissertation and current research interests are related to researching ecosystems and incentives for startups and attracting venture capital investment. Innovation, ideas, and the application of creativity in economics have always piqued my interest as an individual and as a scientist. I am inspired by the idea of cutting-edge economic growth. I know for a fact that people in Belarus have creativity and the ability to generate great business ideas, which is a prerequisite for better living standards. Belarus has a very strong human capital, which is quite realistic to apply for economic growth. I always have wanted Belarus to become a highly developed country. I cooperated with Belarusian policymakers for several years to contribute to the creation of institutions that promote, among other things, the development of the Belarusian startup ecosystem. However, with the intensified repression after the rigged elections of 2020, this activity of mine with the Belarusian authorities has become impossible.
What led you to select UNC-Chapel Hill as a place to further your studies?
UNC-Chapel Hill caught my eye as one of the best – by far the Nation’s first – public universities in the U.S. I discovered this through studying the professional research community here. I read several publications by members of the Economics department and found them valuable and meaningful for me. I also learned that UNC-CH supports diversity and inclusion, which was very important to me as a foreigner. I am very glad that I made my choice in favor of UNC-Chapel Hill; I find every day a reaffirmation of the rightness of my choice. I am also very grateful to the faculty for choosing me as a fellow.
How would you describe your visit to our department and Chapel Hill so far?
I’ve been doing research at the university, working with databases and the library, attending several courses (both short-term and longer), immersing myself in the events and activities of the university, and have had the unique opportunity to teach a freshman course here. I continue to improve my English, immerse myself in the culture, sports and other activities, U.S. higher education; socialize a lot; make a lot of friends and continue to discover Chapel Hill and the Research Triangle as a great place to live and work.
I am inspired by the atmosphere of acceptance, support, and high standards of teaching and research that I observe in the Economics Department. The academic climate here is truly remarkable. I can definitely say that the UNC-CH campus is very comfortable, really beautiful and accommodating.
I have been lucky with the landlords – as I rent a room in a house of an American family also affiliated with UNC-Chapel Hill – and discover American life with them. I have also been fortunate to meet supportive communities at UNC, particularly the Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies and the Fulbright Community.
I could go on endlessly about exactly what I have been able to accomplish here in this seemingly small period. In short, I have been blessed to find myself here.
Might you share specific ways in which teaching is different here than in Belarus?
I’m teaching ECON 101 this semester. My experience in teaching in Belarus is more than 16 years, and I’ve taught micro and macroeconomics among other things. At this point I see certain similarities and differences in teaching here and at Belarusian universities. At the personal level, the differences in teaching are not significant, but here I started to use more open discussions that stimulate critical thinking in the classroom. Nevertheless, at the university level I definitely see a lot more academic freedom in teaching at UNC-Chapel Hill than at universities in Belarus. I admire the support available to faculty at the university, both pedagogical and technical. I use a lot of new technology in teaching the ECON 101 course, such as Canvas, Gradscope, PollEverywhere, Achieve Platform, I used to use Moodle. So I really appreciate the facilitation and flexibility from different services that I can get to use the instructional technology as effectively and professionally as possible. It’s amazing. At the very beginning of the semester, I also took a week-long training for new teachers run by wonderful CFE Faculty Foundations. It’s great that the university has created such great supportive, developing professional resources. Another difference in teaching here as I see it is the sincere interest of the faculty in each other’s success and the willingness to support and share experiences as well as to promote the networking within the university and beyond. As for the students, I can’t generalize, but it seems to me that compared to the Belarusian students, the students here are a little more motivated and responsible. It is a great joy for me as an instructor to work with my students.
I am very grateful to Professor and Chair Donna Gilleskie, who supported my visit to UNC-CH and my desire to have a teaching experience at an American university. I infinitely appreciate the support and mentorship of my host Professor Patrick Conway, who assists me in all matters, both research and teaching. My special regards to colleagues who help me with day-to-day work issues ranging from getting ONYEN, employment, ongoing work trivia like scheduling, printing, or other staff. I am grateful to Professor Geetha Vaidyanathan, who supports me all the way through this semester in teaching. Special thanks to Professor Rita Balaban, who helped me enormously with course preparation and shared materials, her professional expertise, time, and empathy. I can still thank all my colleagues and students in the Department because I feel confident in the acceptance and support, thank you for this atmosphere created by each of you in the Economics Department at UNC-CH.