She can usually be found in Massey Hall.
Often, she is standing in front of a room full of students explaining supply and demand, or in her office, enjoying a cup of coffee from her Keurig and reading up on the latest economic trends.
Her name is Marieta Velikova. Born in Bulgaria and raised in western Siberia, Russia, she is now an economics professor here at Belmont, exactly where she wants to be.
Velikova grew up in communist Russia in a city sky rise, 10 stories tall. She remembers a great sense of community growing up, but also the long lines for rations of basic necessities.
“Until I was 11 years old, it was communism,” she said. “The bad part was that there were shortages of everything. So to buy anything, because there were shortages, you had to stand in line. So I remember standing in line for basic things like flour, wheat and rice.”
A few years after the fall of communism in Russia, Velikova lived her dream of coming to the United States by coming over as as an exchange student at a small high school in Idaho.
“I was an exchange student at the age of 14. I came to the U.S. for one year and loved it,” she said. “It was always kinda of just a dream. For a lot of people I think outside of the United States, the United States is just this big dream. It’s the land of opportunities, it’s the Statue of Liberty, it’s New York City and it’s Hollywood movies.”
One of the biggest barriers Velikova had to overcome was language. She spoke some English, but still practiced with a newspaper and a dictionary once she arrived in Idaho.
“I’d have to translate every second word, and my only audience was the dog,” she said, smiling. “I would say English, Russian, English, Russian, and I would talk like I was teaching the dog.”
After returning to Russia and graduating high school, Velikova went to a university in Moscow, where she received her bachelor’s in economics, a very popular area of study in Russia at the time.
“There was a major change in the economic system, and because there was a major change in economic system, economics became a really interesting area,” said Velikova. “When I graduated, everybody wanted to study economics or law. I was always really good in math, so it was natural for me to do economics.”
During her time in Moscow, she made a connection with Mississippi State University through a missionary she worked from the university, where she went for her master’s and doctorate. She planned to go back to Russia after, but soon realized she wanted to stay in the U.S and began applying to different universities.
“Out of the schools I interviewed at, Belmont was my No. 1 choice,” said Velikova. “When they offered me a job, it was just heaven.”
She has been teaching economics at Belmont now for eight years.
“My favorite part about teaching is my students and the opportunity to learn everyday,” said Velikova. “As we get older, we tend to become more cynical. We see the cup half empty rather than half full. But with the students, there’s just a lot of energy, this positive energy and inspiration to do great things. So I love that. It’s contagious.”
Her love for her students is a mutual feeling.
“I’ve only been in her class for a month, but I look forward to it each week,” said Holly Chester, a junior music business major and student in one of Velikova’s microeconomics classes. “She really cares about her students, and breaks down the material so it’s easy to understand. And of course, I love her accent.”
For some Belmont students who have had Velikova as a teacher, they see her as much more.
“I loved her as a teacher,” said Megan Neumann, a junior math major. “But more than that, I loved her for who she was and how much she wanted to get to know us. I think before being a good teacher, her goal was to be a good role model. She always told us how important family was. She even canceled the class before Thanksgiving so we could have an extra day with our families.”
Outside of class, Velikova loves participating in outdoor activities, including rowing in the Dragon Boat race in August with the Jack C. Massey Graduate School of Business.
“I row for the Massey Machine in the dragon boat race,” she said. “We have placed second, third, fourth and fifth. So we haven’t placed first yet.”
She has also competed in athletic events in Nashville, including a half marathon and Jack Daniel’s “Bike to Jack and Back,” all without training.
“A year and a half ago, I ran a half marathon without any training.The day I ran half marathon was the first day I put tennis shoes on in 2012. I ran it in 2 hours and 9 minutes,” she said. “This past October I did Jack and Back, which is 56 miles on a bike to Jack Daniel’s distillery and 56 miles back. I bought a bike two weeks before.”
She credits her ability to accomplish such feats to her transition from Russia to the United States.
“They say there is a training below neck and above neck, and they say most of it is from your mental strength,” she said. “I have a mental strength just because I’ve been here for almost 12 years on my own. I think mental strength just comes as a habit to survive or as a necessity to survive.”
Moving so far away from everything she knew has given her strength.
“I think it makes you strong. I think it makes you independent. I think it makes you more accepting of differences,” she said.