EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is part of the Making a Difference series focusing on the Edwardsville-Glen Carbon area.
EDWARDSVILLE — When most people think of Eastern Europe during the communist regime, they do not think of higher education.
But that is exactly Elza Ibroscheva’s background. She was born in Burgas, Bulgaria, and is now a professor in the mass communications department at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“I grew up in a very happy childhood, contrary to what most people would believe because I also grew up during communism,” she said. “I had a very carefree, wonderful experience as a young girl in Bulgaria.”
Although she had a pleasant upbringing, Ibroscheva said she does remember disadvantages of living under communism, such as travel restrictions. She also said the situation after the Berlin Wall fell during her teens became very uncertain.
During her childhood, Ibroscheva’s parents encouraged her love of literature and languages, including English. After the collapse of communism, she went on a high school trip to the American University in Bulgaria.
“I just fell in love with the idea of a liberal arts education, the English language, talking about literature and writing and all these amazing things you can do while in college,” she recalled. “I came back and told my parents, ‘I’m going to the American University.’ I was totally focused on it.”
Ibroscheva earned a bachelor’s in journalism and mass communications from the school.
“I can’t imagine doing what I’m doing now without this fundamental understanding of what is valuable about the liberal arts education, which is something I was able to experience at the American University in Bulgaria,” she said. “That university has been an example of why the American model of education is the one everybody aspires to follow.”
While an undergraduate, Ibroscheva wanted to continue her education. She decided to attend graduate school at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, coming to the United States in 1997.
Originally, she planned to complete her graduate studies, then return to Bulgaria to work in the media. Her plans changed as she became more interested in her work.
“I just got madly in love with the idea of research,” she remembered. “I love writing. I love studying the media. I also got the opportunity to be a teaching assistant, and I realized I was kind of enjoying that part of my graduate experience.”
After encouragement from her professors, Ibroscheva decided to continue her education, earning a doctorate degree from SIU Carbondale after she finished her master’s program.
In 2003, she began working as an assistant professor at SIUE. She arrived “all but dissertation,” or ABD, and finished her dissertation within the required time.
Ibroscheva, who primarily teaches a digital publishing and design class and a cultural media studies course, said she loves SIUE’s environment.
“It doesn’t just feel like a workplace,” she said. “It feels like you can come here and you can rely on these people like you rely on your family. For someone like me who is a transplant, I don’t have family in the area. It’s extremely rewarding to know I can rely on my colleagues for more than just professional relationships.”
Ibroscheva said she also loves the students, and in many cases the feeling is mutual.
“We have so many great professors,” Molly Marcum, who graduated from SIUE in May, said. “I did a double major in English and mass communications, so I got a lot of different exposure with a lot of great teachers, and she was by far my favorite. You can’t go wrong with Dr. Ibroscheva.”
“She is quite remarkable in the classroom,” Gary Hicks, a professor in the mass communications department, said. “She has a natural talent for dealing with students, particularly in classes where the subject matter can be very challenging, sometimes controversial.”
In addition to teaching, Ibroscheva serves as chair of her department. She has served in the role for a year, and said she has mixed feelings about it.
“I love the fact that I have the opportunity to think strategically about the department,” she said. “There is, of course, the budget crisis looming, which has literally forced me to put the brakes on a lot of projects or to put ideas on hold because we don’t have the capabilities to do that. It’s very frustrating to see that.”
Hicks, who severed as chair before Ibroscheva, said he admires the work she has done in the position.
“She has done remarkably well, and she took over at a remarkably difficult time,” he said. “I think she’s handled it with grace and professionalism that has benefited the entire department.”
In addition to serving as chair, Ibroscheva serves on the advisory board for the radio station on campus and the student newspaper.
Although she said she enjoys these aspects of her job, the main reason she became a professor was to do research. She has published numerous articles, with most of her research focusing on women, politics and media, usually in Europe.
Additionally, she wrote a book, “Advertising, Sex, and Post-Socialism: Women, Media and Femininity in the Balkans.” She also has co-edited an anthology book called “Women in Politics and Media: Perspectives from Nations in Transition.” Both works target academic audiences.
This combination of research has resulted in many considering Ibroscheva a pioneer in her research.
“I’d like to think of myself as someone who’s breaking ground,” she said of the distinction. “I don’t want to say being called that, which I find extremely flattering, is going to define me as having reached this pinnacle of my work and there is nowhere to go moving forward. On the contrary, I see it as a motivator to continue to add more to the scholarship and continue to add new angles to it as well.”
In her last year at SIUE, Marcum worked with Ibroscheva on a student research project focused on politics in Eastern Europe.
“It was incredible,” Marcum said. “It was absolutely the most rewarding thing I did while in college … it was an honor to be able to work with her.”
When she’s not working, Ibroscheva said she enjoys spending time with her husband and two young children. She also enjoys traveling, reading, cooking, running and biking.