My Experience as the First Walter and Laurel Karabian Fellow

ANCA-WR Karabian Fellow, Anahit Sargsyan
ANCA-WR Karabian Fellow, Anahit Sargsyan

ANCA-WR Karabian Fellow, Anahit Sargsyan

BY ANAHIT SARGSYAN

In September 2016, I received an email from the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region that was to become crucial for my future career and professional development. I was notified that I was selected to be the first participant of the Walter and Laurel Karabian Fellowship Program. This email set off a chain of events, interactions, heart-to-heart conversations, “first times,” and learning experiences that made profound contributions to my professional life and challenged me to develop and strengthen personal qualities. Now that I am in the third month of the fellowship, I would like to reflect and share some thoughts on why the Karabian Fellowship is truly unique.

The Karabian Fellowship is a nine-month program that provides Armenian students and recent graduates an opportunity to gain public policy experience in Sacramento. The program is the first organized effort to help young Armenians gain experience and contribute towards a constant and growing Armenian American presence in our State Capital. My shared commitment to the mission of the program was one of the biggest motivations that encouraged me to apply, and I cannot emphasize enough how happy I am that I did.

This year, the fellowship was divided into two phases; during the first six weeks, the fellow was to be placed in a political campaign, which would be followed by a placement at a legislator’s office at the State Capitol. After being selected, I realized that the structure of the fellowship was innovative when I described it to my circle of politically involved friends, colleagues, and former supervisors, and it became apparent that the two-phase nature of the program was a novelty. Most prestigious fellowship programs, including the Capitol Fellows Program, do not have the two-fold structure of the Karabian Fellowship. For me, being placed in a political campaign was an outstanding learning and networking opportunity that streamlined my smooth transition to the second phase of the program. In retrospect, being placed in a campaign first made all the difference in my experience.

During the first phase of my fellowship, I was placed in Anthony Portantino’s campaign for the 25th State Senate District that was based in Pasadena. Being a Sacramento native, it meant moving to another city and working full-time on a campaign, which I had never done before, for a candidate whom I had never met before. I was, however, ready to be challenged. I embraced the prospect of stepping out of my comfort zone in my quest to grow professionally. These were important factors that motivated me to begin this journey.

So, I packed my car and drove south to Los Angeles. Things in Pasadena worked out better than I could imagine. Here, the uniqueness of the Karabian Fellowship program was expressed yet again, as the ANCA-WR team went above and beyond their obligations by helping me find free housing near my work location. Right away, I felt very much at home as I was graciously welcomed by Dr. Haig and Mrs. Hilda Manjikian. During my stay with the Manjikians, I developed a warm relationship with them, highlighted by some late-night discussions about Armenia and our various life experiences. The Manjikians have been leaders of an organization, the Land and Culture Organization, which provides volunteer programs in Kessab, Syria, and Armenia. I felt honored to be hosted by such inspiring people. Staying with them truly added value to my experience and I can’t thank them enough for welcoming me into their home.

Sargsyan meets with fellowship benefactor, Walter Karabian

Sargsyan meets with fellowship benefactor, Walter Karabian

During my first week in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to meet with the fellowship’s benefactor, Mr. Walter J. Karabian, Esq. to personally thank him for his leadership in such an important undertaking. Mr. Karabian expressed particular interest in my fellowship experience by generously offering his time for continued communication and mentorship. As I am just starting my career, it is inspiring for me to have access to a mentor like Mr. Karabian who was the youngest Majority Leader of the California State Assembly and has decades of experience in government and law. I will always be grateful to him for founding this fellowship and thus encouraging me and others who will follow to excel in our endeavors and contribute to the Armenian Nation.

My placement in Anthony Portantino’s Campaign demonstrated the exceptional care that the ANCA-WR took in picking a placement office for their fellow. Mr. Portantino is a long-time educator and a friend of the Armenian community, who has earned a reputation for being an outstanding mentor. It took me only one short meeting with him to be convinced that I am in good hands.

Sargsyan with Senator Anthony Portantino

Sargsyan with Senator Anthony Portantino

My six weeks at the campaign were full of learning and networking opportunities. I learned about important campaign tools, phone banking and canvassing programs, fundraisers, candidate forums, and campaign media outreach. I was entrusted with the role of managing the campaign communications with Armenian media and community, which turned into a wonderful opportunity to learn about campaign marketing and develop valuable relationships with many editors, reporters, hosts, elected officials, and local ANCA chapters. Throughout the campaign, I was encouraged to take initiative and take on new challenges, such as giving an interview for a news program on USArmenia TV.

My work with Senator Portantino and his campaign staff forged close relationships that made the victory on November 8 even more exciting. It was an indescribable feeling to follow the results of the elections with coworkers, friends, and supporters that I had worked with throughout the campaign. It was truly empowering to see the first campaign I ever worked on result in victory. After the successful conclusion of the campaign, I was placed in Senator Portantino’s Capitol office by the ANCA-WR and began the second phase of my fellowship in Sacramento.

Fresh off the campaign trail, I have smoothly transitioned into working at the Capitol. As I watched Mr. Portantino take his oath and get sworn into office on the Senate floor on December 5, I was moved to the core. I had just witnessed the culmination of the tireless work and long journey of an entire team. In hindsight, had the fellowship begun in Sacramento upon the start of his term in office, I would not have been a part of the campaign struggle that was passionately driven by Mr. Portantino’s dedication to important issues, such as educational policy reforms that are so close to my heart. At that moment, I envisioned the beginning of a new chapter, where the passionate Portantino team would be working each day for a better future for California and I am truly honored to be a part of such a team.

Now that my first week at the California State Capitol is behind me, I find myself reflecting to that one acceptance email from ANCA-WR that opened the doors to so many opportunities. And as I embark on this second phase of the fellowship, I look forward to giving back to the ANCA-WR and the very supportive Armenian community while following the growth and success of the Walter and Laurel Karabian Fellowship Program.

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