Dr. Sevag Agop’s AUA Journey: From Student to Professor

5 min read

Dr. Sevag Agop is an assistant professor at the Manoogian Simone College of Business and Economics (CBE) of the American University of Armenia (AUA). Once an AUA student, he now teaches at the University, which he calls his second home. Originally from Syria, Dr. Agop received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics and mathematical analysis from the University of Aleppo, followed by a master’s in economics from AUA and a doctorate in economics from the Catholic University of Milan. He talked to us about his academic and research interests, passion for teaching, source of inspiration, and more.

What led you to your profession?

Ever since my school years, I have liked solving problems, mysteries, and treasure hunts. My choice of pursuing university education in mathematics was just the option that best fitted my interests. Whenever there is a challenge and you know there is a mystery behind it, there must be a solution. I just loved to keep trying and trying again until I found the solution. The tremendous joy I felt after solving a mathematical problem was priceless. Naturally, that was my main motive to pursue higher education in mathematics. And I would also like to acknowledge my dad’s role in my decision to pursue my passion. He has always been supportive of my decisions, and he is the one who taught me to always follow my heart. 

Equipped with a strong background in mathematics, I incorporate mathematical ingredients in economics and economic theory. I’m interested in investigating economic quandaries and developing mathematical models to explain macroeconomic phenomena. In that process, I also like to include some ingredients from microeconomics to further explain economic phenomena.

What brought you to AUA? How long have you been teaching at CBE? What courses do you currently teach?

The outbreak of the war in Syria is what moved me to Armenia. Initially, I had no plans to pursue a second master’s degree, let alone a Ph.D. But I changed my mind as I learned more about AUA and was introduced to the Master of Science in Economics (MSE) program and the scholarship opportunities for Syrian Armenians at that time. 

My choice of pursuing a master’s in economics was mostly driven by my interest in applying the rich background I possessed in mathematics in some way most relevant to economics. Looking back, I believe that was the right decision and choice of academic specialization. It was like opening a new career door that led to more doors and a career in academia.

I have been teaching at the College for three semesters now. I was first hired as an adjunct lecturer and then, in the past semester, I applied and was selected for an assistant professorship. 

Currently, I teach courses in economics and statistics, namely, Principles of Microeconomics, Principles of Macroeconomics, and Applied Statistics at the Bachelor of Arts in Business program, and also Econometrics at MSE.

As you moved to Armenia, how did you manage adapting to your new environment? 

Other than the challenges of fleeing a war, my move to Armenia has been rather smooth and easily manageable. I’m quite a flexible person and easily adaptable to a new environment. But of course the adaptation process can be slower or quicker under different circumstances and the support of people in one’s new environment. In that sense, AUA and especially my classmates helped me a lot to integrate into Armenian society. They treated me like one of them and not as a foreigner. That made the process of transitioning to my new home very smooth. 

What is it like to teach at a university where you once studied?

After completing my doctorate, AUA was my first choice to return to. Truthfully, I wanted to come back to Armenia and the only place where I wanted to work was AUA, primarily because I was familiar with and liked the University’s environment, community, and culture. 

It has indeed been a unique experience for me to have had the opportunity to study here, then work as a teaching assistant and later as a full time faculty member. I very much enjoy being here, and I know tomorrow is going to be even more exciting than today. 

I really appreciate the values the University embraces, from being open-minded to respecting differences, whether political, cultural, or any other types of differences. I’m very comfortable here, and I believe, even if you are working in a job that you like, it is equally important for the work environment to be comfortable for you to be successful. Every morning, I’m excited to come to AUA. I don’t feel like I’m coming to work. I feel like I’m coming to my second home. 

What are you currently working on? What is important about your research?

Currently, I’m working on developing a computable model: a theoretical model that can be applied to studying the Armenian economy. CBE Dean Dr. Vache Gabrielyan encouraged me to pursue this research track. We want to develop a model that can explain and also predict. For instance, what would happen to the Armenian economy in the face of exogenous shocks? We know that such shocks have been frequent in past years, starting from the pandemic and wars to geopolitical crises and recent influx of people affected by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. So a lot is happening and we believe that such models can at least partly predict what would happen to the economy. 

How do you manage to combine teaching and research? 

It is extremely difficult, especially as this is my first year working as a full time professor. I don’t want my students to be adversely impacted in any way because of the time I devote to my research. At the moment, I try to allocate the bulk of my time to teaching and advising students, and devote the remaining time to research. I believe this will gradually improve and I will find the optimal balance between the two. 

I very much enjoy teaching. As a kid, I used to ask my mom to sit in as a student so I’d practice teaching. Whenever I learned something new in school, I wanted to teach her, and in that process, I digested what I had learned. I believe that every time you explain something to someone, you are learning yourself. That’s how I fell in love with teaching. Besides, it is so rewarding to see your students learn something new, achieve new milestones. Student accomplishments really motivate me to want to continue teaching. 

What would be your advice to AUA students?

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Generally speaking, mistakes are just a part of the learning process in life. And, in that process, you are always allowed to make mistakes. If you are afraid of making mistakes and are too cautious, you may be shielding yourself from failing, but also preventing yourself from exploring new things and exploiting your full potential. Plus, life will always create new opportunities, new struggles, and new challenges, so each day, you will have to make new decisions. Don’t be bound by your past decisions, just update them, update your beliefs whenever life throws new challenges your way.

Where do you find inspiration?

The person who inspires me the most is my wife. She is a fashion designer. We are on opposite ends of the spectrum: I’m the objective thinker and she is the creative mind. She’s very supportive of me and appreciates what I do in my job. Although she doesn’t always understand what I’m doing, she is always a good listener. And what inspires me in her work is the ability to view things from a different perspective, paying better attention to detail. Her example of doing that encourages me to get a different perspective on my work as well. I feel that I have started to pay more attention to detail which helps me a lot in my job. This is what happens when science and art meet each other.