In 1971, the American Economic Association started a committee dedicated to tracking the number of women in the economics profession. Despite the committee’s hope of seeing the relatively low representation of women in economics increase over the years, a 2016 report from AEA suggested little progress had been made. However, the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Texas Tech is changing that stat.
While most of the offices down the old hallways of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics belong to the traditionally-known male faculty members, it is not rare to hear the sound of women’s shoes shuffling on the tile floors now within the past few years. As the department welcomes more women to its faculty family, the department as a whole has begun to alter the norm of the agricultural business and economics industry. For a while, the department consisted of a 22-person faculty with one woman. The department has added five women faculty members since 2015. These six women changing the numbers are Olga Murova, Ph.D., Kelly Lange, Ph.D., Donna Mitchell, Ph.D., Sanja Zivkovic, Ph.D., Tullaya Boonsaeng, Ph.D., and Jamie Bologna, Ph.D.
Olga Murova, Ph.D., associate professor, was the very first woman faculty member hired by the department in 2008. Originally from Ukraine with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering, she moved to the United States and obtained her master’s degree and Ph.D. in economics from Mississippi State University. She traveled to different farming areas in Mississippi with a group of farmers in agricultural and applied economics as an interpreter, and from there, discovered Texas Tech’s program.
Eduardo Segarra, Ph.D., professor and former chairman for the department, and Phil Johnson, Ph.D., the current department chairman are both very supportive of the women faculty. Murova said much of her success is due to Segarra’s mentorship to her during her transition time as the only woman within the faculty.
“My main mentor was Dr. Segarra,” Murova said. “He was very helpful, and counselled me. If I had questions I would go to him, so I am very grateful for his help and mentorship, and all of my colleagues were very nice.”
Research Assistant Professor for the department, Donna Mitchell, Ph.D., is one of the newer faces revamping the department’s traditional demographics. Originally from Lamesa, Texas, she received her bachelor’s and Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Texas Tech and now works heavily in research for the department. Working in the male-driven industry was nothing new to Mitchell.
“It’s different,” she said. “I would say that being a woman in agriculture, especially in the agricultural industry, certainly presents its challenges. It’s typically male-dominated, however in academia it’s kind of different. Everyone is very accepting, and Phil has come to the conclusion that we are going to take over the department one day and then take over the world, so this is part of the plan.”
Mitchell’s research is focused primarily on water issues. She said water is often considered a woman’s issue in many countries and not just related to farming irrigation.
“When you think of agriculture, you think of producers and irrigation,” Mitchell said, “but when you look at developing countries, women are the one who have to find the water, collect water, travel long distances and carry heavy containers of water.”
Mitchell also works in the department’s study abroad program in Seville, Spain, during the summers, which also contributes to the department’s international agriculture program.
Serbia native, Sanja Zivkovic, Ph.D., assistant professor and coordinator of the master’s of agribusiness program within the department, joined the other women faculty in January 2016. She graduated with her master’s and Ph.D. from Texas Tech after hearing about the program from a friend. Although she does not have a background in agriculture, she said she is very thankful to have ended up in the department.
“I’m very glad they wanted more female members including me, and it is very nice to be in a department like this,” Zivkovic said. “When I started the program, even when I was just a student, I realized that students are very supportive of each other, but also professors and faculty members are very, very supportive of us. It doesn’t matter what origin, or country, what our religion is or our beliefs. One of the reasons I wanted to stay here in this department was because of the people around me and the faculty members.”
I’m very glad they wanted more female members including me, and it is very nice to be in a department like this.Sanja Zivkovic
Zivkovic said it is nice to know women are interested in agriculture and education despite not having an agricultural background. She said she hopes the number of women in the department continues to grow in the future.
All three women have noticed a large increase in the number of female students since their student careers in the department.
“In the classes when I was an undergraduate here, there may have been three or four women in classes, “Mitchell said, “and now, I don’t know what percentage that would have been, but now it’s probably 35 percent female.”
In addition to the growing number of women, the department also has one of the most diverse faculty groups at Texas Tech. Over half of the department’s faculty are from different countries, coming from every continent except Australia and Antarctica. According to all three women, this stat is a benefit to the department and its students because of the global direction of the agricultural business and economics industry. The diverse faculty also aides in the opportunities available to students through the department’s international agribusiness program.
“I think it benefits our programs because we have many faculty with connections in their former countries, “Murova said, speaking on the department’s diversity, “so we can start projects if there is an opportunity or need that arises, we can always find contact in the other countries. We understand each other more because we are from different countries and share our knowledge among ourselves as well as with the students. I think that exposes them more to willingness to travel and see other cultures and understand them better, and understand that we are globalizing. It’s only to our benefit to go global and expand opportunities in terms of trade, in terms of jobs.”