Just as she was finishing high school in then-socialist Bulgaria, Governors State University (GSU) Associate Professor of Economics Dr. Evelina Mengova’s world was turned upside down as the country started its transition from a centrally planned government to a democratic market economy.
In the 1990s, Mengova says she saw the standard of living plummet, as people in Eastern Europe struggled to find work, and she watched her once bright future grow dimmer with fading opportunities after college.
“I excelled in math, science, and foreign languages, but the majority of job opportunities for me were in accounting or administrative work in Bulgaria,’’ she recalled. “Neither of these options appealed to me. I wanted to see the world and have a broader horizon.”
Ironically, lack gave way to inspiration. Mengova spent a semester in France, then went on to study international trade and finance, industrial organization, and economic development.
She studied economics across Europe, earning a master’s degree at the Central European University in the United Kingdom and Hungary before coming to the United States, where she received her Ph.D. in Economics from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Mengova stayed in the capital for a while, consulting with the powerful International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, before crossing the country to return to academia at California State University.
Since arriving at GSU in 2011, Mengova has served as program coordinator for Economics and played a critical role in establishing the program. As co-chair of the Strategic Management Committee, Mengova was pivotal in securing the prestigious Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business for the College of Business (COB).
Tireless service to the university combined with a full class schedule and prolific research earned Mengova the 2017 Outstanding Producer Award in the COB. She plays down the recognition, saying her true reward is in shaping a new view of economics for her students.
“The stereotype for an economist is a very serious, very stern man, usually white,’’ said the self-proclaimed free spirited Mengova. “Usually the stereotype is not wrong. But I like breaking it in one sense and confirming it in another. I break it because I'm different from the mainstream. At the same time, I confirm the stereotype because economics is challenging and I’m not afraid of a challenge. “
GSU Newsroom: Your first job out of Georgetown was with the IMF and the World Bank. Tell us about that.
Mengova: The IMF and the World Bank work together to foster economic growth around the world through financial and structural investment in developing countries. I had an interesting experience with both international organizations. I got to see how powerful they are. These are very rich organizations that can change the course of a country. They invest in various projects. For example, in the 1990s, the IMF and the World Bank were investing in Bulgaria. Like most developing countries and countries in economic transition, it needed financial support, as well as investment in education, infrastructure, and institutions. These organizations lend you money and impose conditions that you must do certain economic reforms.
GSU Newsroom: Bulgaria joined the European Union (EU) in 2007. How is Bulgaria doing a decade later?
Mengova: Today Bulgaria is doing much better. Some people there may not agree, but I go there twice a year, and I can see the progress. I remember, vividly, how I lived as an undergrad student, and I can see how students live now. They have a lot of opportunities to travel and study in the EU, to look for job opportunities in the EU. Their world is very open and cosmopolitan.
GSU Newsroom: Tell us about your current research?
Mengova: My latest co-authored paper, Does Institutional Quality in Developing Countries Affect Remittances?, explores the role of institutions in driving the flow of money to developing countries. Remittances is the money people like me send back home to their relatives and friends. In developing countries, if you send just $100 a month, that’s a lot of their income.
Institutional quality is the quality of governance by pretty much all institutions. For example, if you go into the Bank of America to do a simple transaction, you don't even think about it. You go in, you do your business, and you leave in five minutes. What if you have to pay a bribe to get your money? What if many institutions in the country are inefficient or corrupt?
GSU Newsroom: You helped create the Economics program at GSU. What makes you most proud about it and what are you hoping to still achieve?
Mengova: Governors State feels almost like a small liberal arts college. With our class sizes here, I can spend a lot of time with each student, which is very good. One of the most rewarding aspects of my position has been the opportunity to be involved in the development of the bachelor’s degree program in Economics. As an economist, the most rewarding thing for me to is to find the student who will accept the challenge that they will study a lot of complex concepts in the program but then get a really good job and do extremely well.