Bringing classroom learning to life

Posted on June 30, 2016

Assistant Professor of Economics Dora Gicheva wins the Junior Teaching Excellence Award

Dora Gicheva, Bryan School’s 2016 Junior Teaching Excellence Award winner, is hailed as an engaging and dedicated teacher who understands how to make economic theory relatable for her students.

She’s also a native of Bulgaria, a graduate of Colgate and Yale Universities — and the professor who uses desserts to make her point. It’s a simple yet effective way to teach the importance of investment. “I ask my students, ‘Would you rather have one cookie today or two cookies this week?’ to get them thinking. Our money grows when we save or invest it, but so often we prefer to consume more today, which means having less in the future.”

The lesson sticks. One semester, Dora’s students surprised her with a cake after the final exam to thank her. “Now I make sure to share a sweet treat with my students at the end of the semester, after they’ve had to listen to me talk about desserts for weeks.”

Investing in students so that they invest in the class

Dora teaches courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. She has a reputation for bringing classroom learning to life in both. “What is of greatest importance in teaching is that students are invested in a class,” she says. “I remind them that economics is a social science. It is very important to me that they are engaged in various issues — be they political, social or economic —outside the classroom, and that they are comfortable drawing connections between the material I teach and current events, scholarly research, or their career interests.”

To this end, she asks her students to read news stories. She then guides dialogue around what they read and see on TV, relating it to the economic theory they’re learning.

Making the content relatable is very important to her: When UNCG Entrepreneur Day introduced her to Phil Rees, founder and General Counsel of Wellington Healthcare, Dora worked with the alumnus to arrange repeat visits so that subsequent classes could have the benefit of learning from him.

“Phil Rees discussed the long-winding road he took from member of a rock band to Bryan School economics student to highly successful entrepreneur,” Dora says. “His talk was the perfect combination of inspiring career success story and a first-rate account of the labor market in the nursing home industry, which placed much of the material I had been teaching in context.”

“Ridiculously smart. Kind. Down-to-earth”

Her student feedback shows that she is the kind of professor who both pushes and supports her students. “It’s always awesome to meet a professor, like Dr. Gicheva, who is so ridiculously smart, but also kind and down-to- earth,” says Zachary Blizard ’16, who starts a masters in Applied Economics at the Bryan School in the fall. “Her teaching style is foundational, challenging and open. She puts a lot of time into making sure her students understand, but she also expects her students to push themselves and attempt problems that might be slightly out of their grasps.”

“Dr. Gicheva inspires me. She makes me view math in a new light. Now I see it as a tool that can be used to answer some incredibly interesting questions.”

– Zachary Blizard ’16

When Dora accepted her post at the Bryan School, she was drawn to the economics department for its collegial atmosphere. She also he appreciated that UNCG values both teaching and research.

Her students see the many ways that economic theory can be applied to solve problems, and that’s the ultimate win for her.

“Knowing that I have helped convey how versatile and pertinent the field of economics is constitutes a major reward for me.”


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