BY TALEEN BABAYAN
PIEDMONT, Calif.—The Diaspora and the homeland were connected through the journey of an American University of Armenia student and her scholarship sponsors during an emotional evening centering around the University’s efforts at the home of Bill Cumberlich and Sara Kachadoorian Cumbelich in the San Francisco Bay Area, on Thursday, August 16.
Born and raised in the rural region of Syunik in southern Armenia, senior Lilia Mamikonyan (CS ’19) shared her reflections on how AUA impacted her life and expressed her gratitude to her donors, Ara and Laura Dirtadian, who were present at the event. A rising senior studying computer science, Mamikonyan has already secured a job in Armenia following graduation, and thanked the couple for helping her achieve her dreams. Mamikonyan was the first recipient of the scholarship the Dirtadian’s established in honor of their grandparents, Elia Kahvedjian and Arakel Dirtadian, both of whom were Armenian Genocide survivors.
“I cannot imagine where I would be now without you and your family’s support and motivation,” said Mamikonyan. “You both inspired me to pursue my goals three years ago and I hope one day I will be able to give back.”
In turn, the Dirtadian’s highlighted the rewarding journey they embarked on as scholarship donors, particularly the personal relationship they developed with Mamikonyan. They encouraged others to join them in that journey and invest in the education of the youth in Armenia.
“Given AUA’s programs and its link to the Diaspora, I see that the university is going to set up its students for success,” said Laura Dirtadian. “Even though Lilia is graduating, we will continue to support scholarships in honor of our grandfathers and hope to continue to build this amazing network of women in computer science.”
She conveyed the deep bond she developed with Mamikonyan over the last few years and their relationship inspired her and her hope in the future of Armenia. Dirtadian shared an excerpt from a letter Mamikonyan sent her during the Velvet Revolution and how it exemplified the positive spirit and optimism moving forward.
“The country has been awakened,” wrote Mamikonyan in a letter dated April 23. “In my mind, what is most important is that people become more loving, more patriotic and more determined to make our country the Armenia of our dreams and I am sure it will happen because the Armenian youth is so powerful.”
She said that after the celebrations, on the morning of April 24, hundreds of people gathered on the streets of Yerevan and “for the first time ever the Armenian Genocide Commemoration day became a new beginning for our nation.”
Host Sara Kachadoorian Cumbelich saw this transformation first-hand when she recently visited Armenia with her father and was impressed with the intellectual student body and the technologically advanced campus at AUA.
“I have visited many universities over the last six years as we have two children in college, and one set to go to university next year,” said Kachadoorian Cumbelich. “I feel like I can have a good sense of what excellent higher learning looks like in the United States and the UK, and AUA is on par with many, if not all these institutions.”
She praised AUA and its visionary outlook, and introduced guests to President Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian, who provided updates on the University and its future. Highlighting the momentous changes occurring in Armenia, he expressed student civic engagement in the movement and AUA alumni who have assumed leadership roles in the new government, serving as ministers and deputy ministers.
“AUA is the best investment the Diaspora has made in Armenia,” said Dr. Der Kiureghian. “The university, its students and its faculty play a vital role in building the leaders of Armenia.”
He thanked the Board of Trustees members in attendance as well as the Development Team, who worked diligently to initiate and launch two major AUA initiatives, including the 100 Pillars of AUA program and the “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign.
Dr. Lawrence Pitts, chair of the AUA Board of Trustees and former provost of the University of California system, which AUA shares a strong affiliation with, elaborated on the high quality education students receive at the University, which upholds its promise of offering a need-blind admissions process to attract top applicants from around the country.
“The founders of AUA, both within and outside Armenia, intended for the University to be transformative for higher education in the country,” said Dr. Pitts. “AUA has achieved this to a substantial degree by raising the bar for a quality university education, to the benefit of their students and of Armenia.”
A special appearance was made by an AUA supporter Sedrak Sargissian, who spoke about AUA’s partnership with Mentor Graphics (a Siemens Business), a US-based multinational corporation for electrical engineering and electronics, underscoring the importance of corporate collaborations with the University. As Director of Engineering, he also highlighted the fact that their local office in Armenia, established in 2008, hires AUA graduates. To date, the company employs 150 professionals, mainly engineers with a strong female proportion.
The evening concluded with a piano performance by Sargissian, as well as the presentation of gifts from Dr. Der Kiureghian and his wife, Nelly, to Mr. and Mrs. Cumberlich, thanking them for inviting AUA’s supporters into their home.
“My husband and I are thrilled to support AUA and students like Lilia,” said Kachadoorian Cumbelich. “Education is the cornerstone of a prosperous and independent Armenia.”
To learn more about the American University of Armenia and ways to give, please visit www.aua.am. If you have any questions, please contact the Development Office at [email protected] or call 510-925-4282.
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. For more information about the American University of Armenia and its donor opportunities, please visit www.aua.am.