$3 Million Anonymous Gift to Bolster CSUN Armenian Studies

Vahram Shemmassian, head of CSUN’s Armenia Studies Program. (CSUN Photo by Lee Choo. Photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic)
Vahram Shemmassian, head of CSUN’s Armenia Studies Program. (CSUN Photo by Lee Choo. Photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic)

Vahram Shemmassian, head of CSUN’s Armenia Studies Program. (CSUN Photo by Lee Choo. Photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic)

California State University, Northridge has received an anonymous $3 million gift to support its Armenian Studies Program and provide scholarships to students.

A large portion of the gift, $2.5 million, has been designated for scholarships, which will be available to any student interested in studying or working with the Armenian community through advocacy, humanitarian, cultural or philanthropic work. The remainder of the money has been earmarked to support activities within the program.

“This gift emphasizes the power that education has to build bridges and provide opportunities for people to explore new communities and cultures, in this instance the Armenian community,” said CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison. “CSUN educates more Armenian students than any other university in the world outside of Armenia. This gift will strengthen an already strong program that provides a foundation of knowledge about Armenian culture and the impact Armenians and Armenian Americans have, not just in California, but throughout the world.”

Vahram Shemmassian, head of CSUN’s Armenian Studies Program, called the anonymous gift “amazing, and example that there is still good in the world.”

“The gift’s emphasis on scholarships invites people to learn about a culture and people they may not know about,” Shemmassian said. “The gift encourages comparative studies and intellectual exploration. If you are majoring in religion, you study Armenia’s religions. If you are studying the Holocaust, you can also learn about the Armenian Genocide. If you are interested in music or film, you can explore the Armenian aspect of these things. This amazing gift is inclusive, not exclusive, of people of all backgrounds, and underscores the power of a positive education to transform people and expand their understanding of the world around them.”

CSUN’s Vice President for University Relations and Advancement and President of the CSUN Foundation Robert Gunsalus said, “The wonderful and anonymous donors behind this gift were motivated by an appreciation for the Armenian culture and community, and helping the people of our region. We are deeply grateful that they chose CSUN as the instrument to animate those passions.”

Gunsalus went on to say, “The many students who will benefit from this generous gift will make a positive impact on exponentially more people, a lasting and splendid legacy for the donors and a genuine honor for the university.”

The $3 million is the second anonymous gift to CSUN’s Armenian Studies Program in the past year.

In October 2019, CSUN officials announced an anonymous gift of $2.1 million to support the program and the efforts of the special collections and archives unit of CSUN’s library to preserve the archives of Armenian families that date back to the pre-World War I Ottoman period, including letters, books, clothes and jewelry.

Shemmassian said the gifts are a reflection of the positive reputation CSUN’s Armenian Studies Program has for serious scholarship and its connection to the Armenian community. He said he has worked in partnership with the university’s development officials, particularly with Suren Seropian, director of development for the College of Humanities, to ensure that the community is aware of the program and all it has to offer.

“Our mission is to create an atmosphere of tolerance and appreciation for all people, and to foster serious scholarship about Armenia and its people,” he said.

CSUN’s Armenian Studies Program, established in 1983, promotes the study of the language and culture of Armenia and Armenians, and helps prepare the next generation of scholars in the field. The program offers students support, workshops, public lectures and outreach programs. Through their work, faculty, staff and students in the program strive to contribute to the scholarly analysis and understanding of the challenges the Armenian people have faced at home, in the Near East and the Caucasus, and the in the Diaspora.

Additionally, the program has launched, in partnership with CSUN’s Liberal Studies Program’s Integrated Teacher Education Program, an effort to prepare future public and private school educators who have the skills to teach Armenian language and culture.

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