With Politics on Their Minds, New Class of Capital Gateway Fellows Begin Journey on the Hill

ANCA Capital Gateway Program Fall 2008 participantsGrigor Mirza-Avakyan, Meri Telelyan, Mikael Kourinian, Aleek Kahramanian,and Shant Nahapetian.

WASHINGTON–The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Capital Gateway Program welcomed five new participants to the nation’s capital this month, each eager to embark on careers in politics and public policy.

Now in its fifth consecutive year, the Gateway Program helps applicants attain exciting internships and challenging full-time public policy jobs in the nation’s capital. To date, over forty fellows have gone through the program and secured positions in dozens of Congressional offices, as well as esteemed media and political institutions such as Congressional Quarterly, the US Chamber of Commerce, Export-Import Bank (EXIM), SRCP Media and the World Bank.

The five Fall, 2008 participants hit the ground running in Washington, landing Congressional internships within weeks of their arrival. "Being in DC for only a week and having already secured internships on the Hill is very exciting for both me and my colleagues," said Meri Telelyan, a recent University of California, Santa Barbara graduate currently interning for Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA). "Of course, our ultimate goal is to find permanent positions working in Congress."

Joining Telelyan is fellow UC Santa Barbara graduate Grigor Mirza-Avakyan, who is interning with central California Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA). Mikael Kourinian and Shant Nahapetian, both from California and both with Masters degrees in Public Administration, have also set in motion their careers in DC with internships for Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), respectively. A fifth participant from Detroit, Aleek Kahramanian, was the final Fellow to arrive and join her new roommates at the Gateway house, located just a stone’s throw away from the White House. Kahramanian is currently interning with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI).

"It is often difficult to pick up one’s life, leave family and friends, and move across country to pursue a dream," says Nahapetian. "But the ANCA Capital Gateway program provides the resources, mentoring, and encouragement to significantly ease the burdens such a drastic life change may entail."

In addition to excelling academically and having a passion for politics, each of the five Fellows has also demonstrated a track record of commitment to the Armenian American community. Kourinian, recently wrapped up a summer internship with the ANC-WR and looks forwarding to handling Armenian American issues as one of his main tasks for Congressman Crowley. "I am grateful to the ANCA Capital Gateway Program for giving me the opportunity to make my dream of working in Congress and addressing Armenian American issues a reality," says Kourinian. Kourinian is also interning with the Hudson Institute, in his pursuit of a policy position in a think tank.

As in the past, Washington DC area Armenian American policy professionals have reached out to the ANCA Capital Gateway Fellows, offering them valuable advice and encouragement. Among community activists always ready to share insights is Senate Banking Committee Senior Counsel Dean Shahinian, who brings insight both from the Congressional and U.S. government agency perspective.

"It’s wonderful how many doors suddenly appear in front of you when you get here," says Mirz-Avakyan. "Regardless of what preconceptions you might have had, it’s hard to have anything but confidence that you’re in the right place at the right time."

Established through a generous donation from the Cafesjian Family Foundation, the Capital Gateway Program, over the years, has benefited tremendously from the generosity of donors committed to creating public service opportunities for young Armenian Americans.

The leading financial contributor to the Program has been the family of Hovig Apo Saghdejian, a 23-year old youth leader and community activist from Fresno, California, who lost his life in 2004 in a tragic car accident. His family established the Hovig Apo Saghdejian Memorial Fund in his memory. Substantial support has also been provided by longtime ANCA benefactors Mr. and Mrs. Frank and Barbara Hekimian and the Armenian American Veterans Post of Milford, Massachusetts (AAVO).

For more information, email ANCA Capital Gateway Program Director Serouj Aprahamian at serouj@anca.org

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