AUA Appoints New Dean of General Education and Director of EPIC

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Sharistan Melkonian

Sharistan Melkonian

YEREVAN—The American University of Armenia announced the appointment of Sharistan Melkonian as AUA’s first Dean of General Education and Michael Kouchakdjian as the new Director of Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC).

Born in Massachusetts, Sharistan Melkonian has lived in Los Angeles, New York, and Boston, where she was actively involved with a number of organizations, including St. Stephen’s Elementary School, the Armenian National Committee of America, Youth Policy Action Center, and Campaign for Youth. She spent eight years as Legislative Director for YouthBuild USA, a national non-profit organization providing education, counseling and job training to unemployed youth. Before joining the American University of Armenia (AUA), Melkonian led the Armenian Volunteer Corps, Armenia’s premier volunteer placement organization.

“I am tremendously excited to work side by side with such dedicated and inspiring faculty to lead the University’s general education efforts, especially at this moment in Armenia’s development. The University’s general education program is a cornerstone of its liberal arts undergraduate education. Students both hone their skills as specialists in their chosen fields of study as well as grow into conscientious leaders and problem solvers with a broad foundation of knowledge and skills and a commitment to lifelong learning,” said Melkonian.

With AUA since 2011, Melkonian joined the University as Director of Assessment and Accreditation and was part of the development team for the launch of AUA’s undergraduate program. She is currently in charge of accreditation, assessment, and institutional research. Melkonian successfully co-leads collaborative university efforts to earn reaffirmation of accreditation for nine years, through a U.S. Department of Education ‒ recognized regional accreditation agency. She is also a member of the University’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee.

“On behalf of the University, I can state that we are confident that not only will she enthusiastically embrace this role, but she will be a strong champion for the Program and its liberal arts agenda,” said AUA Provost Dr. Randall Rhodes.

Melkonian is in charge of faculty professional development related to teaching and learning. She has presented at several international conferences in the United States, Europe and Armenia on teaching, learning, and assessment. She served on the inaugural Accreditation Committee of the National Center for Professional Education Quality Assurance Foundation, Armenia’s national accreditation agency.

Melkonian is currently earning a doctoral degree in Higher Education Management at the University of Pennsylvania. She also holds a B.A. in Communications from Worcester State University, and an M.A. in Comparative and International Education with a concentration in Economics and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She assumed her position as Dean of General Education on February 21, 2018.

Michael Kouchakdjian

Michael Kouchakdjian

AUA also announced the appointment of Michael Kouchakdjian as the new Director of Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC).

“Michael is the ideal person to lead EPIC. Over the years he has considerable start-up and venture experience in both Armenia and the US. He has an impressive track record of successfully executing the most challenging of projects,” noted AUA President Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian.

Michael Kouchakdjian, Ph.D., is a Professor in AUA’s College of Business and Economics teaching management and entrepreneurship.

“Dr. Michael Kouchakdjian, while teaching in the CBE, will be assuming the position of Director of EPIC. Priorities will be to ensure synergies between the Center and all Colleges, engage experts in the public and private sectors in mentoring student teams, increase the number of external commercial projects coming into EPIC, and increase grant activities to support and grow current initiatives,” wrote the Provost in an email message to the AUA community.

In the US, Dr. Kouchakdjian’s career was in the biotechnology industry: first, at Antigenics, Inc., one of the first immuno-oncology biotech startups in the world, where his roles included business and corporate development, alliance management, as well as mergers and acquisitions; then, as Founder and President of Blue Stream Laboratories, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which he exited in 2016 following acquisition by a multinational pharmaceutical services company.

This isn’t the first time Dr. Kouchakdjian is working in Armenia. He first came to AUA in 1992, one year after its founding. From 1993 to 1997, he was Director of Administration, establishing and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the newly established university under President Mihran Agbabian. Simultaneously, Dr. Kouchakdjian was Director of AUA’s Center for Business Research and Development (CBRD) where he directed over three-dozen research and consulting projects throughout Armenia. At the time, CBRD was distinctive for being the first and only source of “western”-style business research and consulting services in Armenia.

“I see EPIC as a conduit for AUA’s supporters and, more broadly, the diaspora and beyond, to channel knowledge, expertise, and finance to our most ambitious student entrepreneurs. I believe the start-up venture ecosystem in Armenia is approaching critical mass. With EPIC serving as a platform with its best-in-class facilities and equipment, unmatched technical and business expertise, and top-flight students, AUA will be at the forefront,” said Kouchakdjian.

In the mid 1990s, Dr. Kouchakdjian was responsible for the construction and startup of the AUA Business Center on Alex Manoogian Street, one of the first foreign development projects of that scale in Armenia. The AUA Center has provided a critical revenue stream for the university for almost 20 years.

While at AUA in the early period, as an Associate Professor of Business, Dr. Kouchakdjian established the first Entrepreneurship and New Venture program at AUA as well as the first Start-Up/Business Plan competition in Armenia, which gave a number of Armenia’s first startups the opportunity to be born soon after independence.

Kouchakdjian earned his MBA from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Anderson School of Management in 1992 and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from the Columbia University in 1990. He assumed his position as Director of Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center on March 15, 2018.

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, and affiliated with the University of California. AUA provides a global education in Armenia and the region, offering high-quality graduate and undergraduate studies, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting public service and democratic values.

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