Anahit Baghshetsyan

Anahit Baghshetsyan Anahit Baghshetsyan has a difficult time staying in one place. Born in Armenia, she moved to California at 16 years old to join her father in Burbank. Irvine wasn't far away, but it wasn't the distance that lured her.

"Econ was the main reason I actually picked UCI, because they have this very, very good program," she said. In addition to a quantitative economics major, she decided to minor in management, which she thought offered soft skills that complemented her math-intensive major. Baghshetsyan has excelled in the economics department, even earning a Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research for her honors project.

"There's this interesting term in economics called psychological poverty traps," she said, "the idea that poverty in modern day is strongly correlated with declining mental health. Bad mental health causes worse poverty, and worse poverty causes worse mental health. And then people are just stuck in this downward spiral."

She set out to research whether simply throwing money at the problem could help improve mental health, a new area of research for which she’d need a mentor.   And she found one in UCI assistant professor Meera Mahadevan. "She was amazing. She just believed in me, and she said, 'People need to research things that are not fully researched to understand things better.'" With Mahadevan's help, Baghshetsyan managed to secure a $350 grant to present her findings at the UROP symposium.

Simultaneously, Baghshetsyan has done not one but three study abroad programs. "I've exhausted EAP resources. They probably know me by name at this point," she joked. "This girl again." Having studied in Italy in both Florence and Milan, Baghshetsyan then spent her last spring as an undergraduate in Dublin, Ireland, where she worked in Parliament as an assistant to Labour Party Senator Annie Hoey.

"Coming into the U.S., I was very multicultural, and I didn't want to lose that spark, that interest for the world," Baghshetsyan said. "Study abroad has been the best resource to continue growing in that sense."

Of all the places she's been, UCI has proven to be a uniquely friendly environment. "I genuinely have not met anybody rude or mean or inconsiderate. I feel like that is not something that we get everywhere around the world. And I really cherish it."

In particular, she's bonded with the Armenian community on campus through her sorority. Open to both Armenian Americans and nationals, Alpha Gamma Alpha does philanthropic activities that center on those communities. "Alpha Gamma Alpha allowed me to have that outlet of connecting with people from Armenia," said Baghshetsyan. "It's just a good reminder of my culture and my background."

Baghshetsyan was selected as one of two commencement speakers, and she plans to highlight her country during graduation. "A lot of times, we feel like we don't get enough representation in the community," she said. She also feels that there's not enough awareness of the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

However, she's also striving to relate to everybody who's graduating. "I feel like a lot of times when you hear the graduation speeches, speakers are going to Harvard Law or Cornell to cure cancer, and it feels very bad that you're not out there doing amazing things. But in reality, my main goal is to just stress the idea that we're not supposed to have our life figured out just now."

For her part, she'll be taking some time off. In Armenia, she began volunteering with Save the Children International and Oxfam, and she continued that humanitarian work while in college as the Community Outreach Chair for UNICEF at UCI. These experiences inspired her to cofound her own social enterprise last year, called Toon.

"I love postcards," she said. But instead of creating graphics that fail to reflect the communities of those places—a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge says little about the people who live near it, for example—Toon features artwork by children from vulnerable communities. Part of the proceeds are then donated back to organizations that the children are affiliated with. "Right now we have collaborations in Armenia, Nigeria, Jordan, Italy, and working on growing more," said Baghshetsyan.

Her goal is to grow that list to 10 countries before heading to either D.C. or London for a master’s in international relations or a related field. One day, she hopes to work in federal politics or perhaps for a private international nonprofit, such as UNICEF or Save the Children. 

Wherever she ends up, she's sure to keep traveling the world. "I move around a lot," said Anahit Baghshetsyan. "I don't mind."

-Alison Van Houten for UCI Social Sciences

connect with us


© UC Irvine School of Social Sciences - 3151 Social Sciences Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697-5100 - 949.824.2766