Economics isn’t just about goods and services, supply and demand, dollars and cents.
An associate professor of economics, Zarrina Juraqulova discovered at a young age it is just as much about us, the opportunities we are given, and the choices we make.
Juraqulova earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics in her native Tajikistan and spent the next decade working there for organizations including the United Nations, Winrock International, and World Bank. Her pursuit of a Ph.D. brought her to the United States, specifically to Washington State University. She discovered Denison as a visiting professor in 2015 and quickly saw the merits of a liberal arts approach to education. Her two oldest children are also Denisonians — one a 2023 graduate and the other a current student — and she loves that they are encouraged to see the world around them from all angles.
“They can challenge themselves in terms of their religion, their ideology, their political standing,” she said. “Being in the liberal arts provides them with the opportunity to learn across all disciplines.”
“I am very happy being in academia, because in academia it is constant learning,” she said. “You’re always learning something new.”
You grew up in Tajikistan and witnessed the implosion of the Soviet Union as a child. How did that experience pique your interest in economics?
I was 12 years old when the Soviet Union collapsed, and I clearly remember the frustrations that many people had. They lost jobs, they lost money, they lost their savings. And overnight there was a new economic system. They didn’t know anything about a market economy, or how it functions. People were not ready for those big changes. Seeing all these drastic changes sparked my curiosity to learn more about the economy.
You’ve said the idea of a liberal arts college like Denison was new to you upon arriving in the U.S., but that you found yourself quickly drawn to that style of learning. Why?
I came to Denison as a visiting professor. Coming to Denison, I learned what it means to be a “liberal arts school.” In former Soviet Union countries, we don’t have liberal arts schools. I really like that in liberal arts schools, people appreciate the interdisciplinary approach to research, to the courses. I really like working with students and colleagues from various disciplines. I’m the kind of person who wants to learn about an issue from different perspectives.
You use that philosophy in your classes. You accompanied students on learning trips to Central Asia and last fall to the U.S.-Mexico border. You also infuse classwork with personal experiences from the decade you spent working on economic and social issues in Tajikistan, often in rural areas and parts of the country that had been scarred by civil war. Why do you like this real-world approach to teaching?
I think the students appreciate when I share with them my professional experience and bring examples from my personal background. I worked as a volunteer for the United Nations Development Program to help implement rehabilitation projects in a war-affected area of Tajikistan. This experience opened the door to many professional career opportunities for me at other international humanitarian agencies based in Tajikistan. I have been fortunate to be part of programs that aimed to enhance local governance, ensure sustainable local economic growth, and strengthen livelihoods and employable skills for rural populations with high levels of poverty. It was a good experience because I obtained real-life/empirical knowledge by working with different people in the community.
You see economics through a human lens. You are on sabbatical this semester to further your research on the economic impact of reproductive rights in Central Asia, as well as child care issues in Kazakhstan. Why is it important to view economics in the context of social issues like child care and elder care, income disparity, gender politics, and diversity?
Economics is not all about finance, money, interest rates, or stock markets. Economics can also be used to study different issues, such as gender inequality and how it affects the economy. Economics is about people, their behaviors, and how their decisions also affect their future perspectives or their productivity. Our behaviors and choices affect our wellbeing and financial independence.
You recently started growing roses as a hobby. How did that come about, and what does it say about you?
I’m the kind of person who likes changes, but good changes, intellectual changes. Last year I started growing roses as a fun activity. It’s not easy to grow roses in Ohio because of the humidity. In Tajikistan, when we grow roses it is much easier. It doesn’t require so much care. Here it takes a lot of care, so I am learning how to effectively take care of them. That is just how I am. I’m constantly trying to learn something new, and move forward.