Alumni Spotlight: Muskie Alumnus Armen Ghazaryan’s Sweet (But Healthy) Career in Agricultural Economics

Muskie Alumnus and Fulbright Scholar Armen Ghazaryan at U.S. Department of Agriculture. Photo courtesy: Armen Ghazaryan

The career path of Armen Ghazaryan, an Edmund S. Muskie Professional Fellowship Program alumnus and Fulbright Scholar from Armenia has been sweet, since his focus has been on agricultural economics of school meals, quality food, healthy diets, and farmers’ produce prices. He holds an MS from the University of Missouri, a PhD from Colorado State University, and recently worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an economist and Prevention Effectiveness Fellow. Since completing the Muskie Professional Fellowship Program in 2016, Armen is making a difference in the lives of people in the U.S. and his home country using what he learned from his Muskie and Fulbright Program experience.


Armen Ghazaryan and Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA and the Acting Administrator-Alfred V. Almanza during summer internship. Photo courtesy: Armen Ghazaryan

Tell us about your career journey after your experience in the U.S.

After the completion of my Muskie Fellowship in 2016, I joined the Agricultural and Resource Economics PhD program at Colorado State University. During my studies, I researched policy-relevant topics related to the food and beverage markets in the U.S. and Armenia, where I got to use some of the data sources which I had learned about during my Muskie Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Particularly, I studied healthy diet affordability in Armenia, the contribution of school meals to household diet quality for at-risk households in the U.S, the major sources and consumers of added sugars in the U.S., and dairy and non-dairy milk market dynamics in the U.S.

While pursuing my PhD, I also worked as a Visiting Lecturer of Macroeconomics and Agricultural Economics at the Armenian National Agrarian University. The Muskie Fellowship also benefited my teaching, as I would use examples from my USDA experience during lectures to illustrate the importance of agricultural data and data-driven policymaking. During my PhD studies, I also implemented a project aimed at providing practical skills to young aspiring agripreneurs from the rural regions of Armenia. As a result, some of the participants successfully started their agribusinesses, while others created viable business plans and started looking for funding.

After completing my PhD in 2020, I became one of ten Prevention Effectiveness Fellows at the CDC. My decision to apply to the CDC was partly due to my Muskie Fellowship experience at USDA, as it changed my perception of public service and made me fully realize that economic research conducted at public institutions can be very impactful. At the CDC, my research focused on analyzing sugar-sweetened beverage purchases, the relationships between food purchase quality and chronic diseases, risk factors, and food retail and socioeconomic environments.

What is your proudest professional accomplishment and why?

Armen Ghazaryan and Policy Analysis Team. Photo courtesy: Armen Ghazaryan

Broadly speaking, I am very proud of having developed a work ethic that has allowed me to build meaningful connections with all my employers throughout my career. Most of them have expressed willingness and interest in “having me back” as part of their respective organizations, while with others, we have continued finding ways to cooperate in different formats.

A more “tangible” professional accomplishment that I am proud of is that I have been able to share my privileges, knowledge, experiences, and skills with others—be it through teaching or organizing seminars and training. Lastly, as any researcher, I get a great sense of accomplishment every time one of my research papers gets published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. This makes me proud not only because of the validation from other, more-established researchers/academics, but also because of the realization that I have made at least a tiny contribution to the development of my field.

In what ways did your U.S. experience impact you? 

Professionally, it gave me an opportunity to continuously learn and use some of the cutting-edge research tools, methods, and data sets. It also greatly enlarged my network and circle of friends, made me even more open minded, and better equipped to work with people from different backgrounds. While studying in the U.S., I became more comfortable asking questions and questioning assumptions, which is a useful skill not only in academia but also in many other settings.