Agrian Inc. & the American University of Armenia Gather & Inspire Supporters
The forces of Armenia and the Diaspora came together on Friday, December 7, in an event hosted by Agrian Inc., an agricultural technology company headquartered in Fresno, California, with offices in Yerevan Armenia, to benefit the American University of Armenia (AUA), a leading academic institution in the country.
Owners of Agrian, Nishan and Andriana Majarian, have enjoyed a long-standing fruitful relationship with the University, stemming from the opening of their Yerevan branch in 2004 that focuses on web-based tools for agriculture, and since then have steadily employed AUA graduates both in California and in Armenia.
“We are so impressed by the work AUA is doing in Armenia,” said Nishan, co-founder and CEO of Agrian. “We did our initial recruitment at AUA because of the quality of students as well as their competent English language skills and most of the candidates we recruited are still with us today.”
Nishan remarked that the company’s goal was to have a qualified, educated workforce that could help “build the foundation of Agrian in Armenia.” This was made possible by the partnership with AUA and its alumni, who have made a positive and lasting impact on the company.
Andreh Gaspar, Director of Development at Agrian in Yerevan, and his wife, Arpi, were present at the event and shared their thoughts on Agrian and AUA, their alma mater.
Emphasizing the significance of the University in his life, Andre explained that the institution was where he gained the knowledge and skills to allow him to excel in his current profession. “AUA provided me with the education I needed to become a valuable contributor in a global economy,” said Andre, who noted that Agrian employs 30 AUA alumni. “Agrian helps support many families in Armenia by providing secure jobs.”
Reflecting on her time at AUA, Arpi said that she spent the “most memorable and life-changing years” as a student there. “I was able to make all my dreams come true by receiving a quality education and learning from the inspiring professors and students,” said Arpi, who met Andre at AUA. “We both studied hard to get the education we needed to stay and work in our motherland and make it a better place for us and everyone else.”
Arpi was able to attend AUA on scholarships and achieve her educational and professional goals without a financial burden on herself or her parents. “I distinctly remember the day I received the Balian Award for Best Student, which covered my tuition for the whole year,” said Arpi, who is a General Manager and Chief Technology Officer of the Armenian branch of NMX Global Software Inc., as well as a lecturer in the Computer and Information Science program at AUA. “At that moment I realized that I came much closer to getting where I wanted to be in my life.”
Arpi acknowledged the significance of donors who helped her overcome financial challenges, while receiving a college education and the far-reaching impact education has on Armenia’s development.
“AUA gave my husband and I the skills, the knowledge and the opportunity to have fulfilling jobs and to secure a better future in Armenia, thanks to the donors who realize the importance of having educated people in our country,” concluded Arpi.
While introducing AUA President Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian, Nishan said he was “grateful for the leadership of AUA” and the progress he witnessed in the country over the years.
“We see so many great young people who want to change the world and don’t want to leave Armenia to do that and I think that’s really exciting,” said Nishan. “Dr. Der Kiureghian gave us a great tour of AUA and it’s a beautiful state-of-the-art building filled with so much energy and excitement.”
Nishan noted that his favorite place in the world is experiencing the view of Mount Ararat from Armenia, an image he remembers from his childhood. “Growing up I always saw the painting of Mount Ararat in my grandmother’s house and that dream of seeing Mount Ararat in person has now become a reality for Armenians around the world.”
Recognizing the 30th anniversary of the disastrous earthquake in Armenia, Dr. Der Kiureghian described how the tragedy inspired Dr. Mihran Agbabian and himself to propose a Western style academic institution in Armenia. Dr. Stepan Karamardian would later join their initiative.
Selected by the National Academy of Sciences to survey the damage, Dr. Agbabian and Dr. Der Kiureghian arrived in Armenia a week after the earthquake and were “deeply affected” by the destruction and vowed to make a difference. Soon after, they wrote a proposal to establish an American-style university in Armenia. Since all three were affiliated with the University of California, they forged ties between the two universities, a relationship that continues today.
“AUA was a constructive response to that calamity,” said Dr. Der Kiureghian. “The University became a forward-looking and positive reaction in the face of the devastating earthquake.”
Since its establishment, it has been a priority for AUA to help finance the education of its students. Dr. Der Kiureghian stressed the importance of raising funds for scholarships in order for AUA to continue its need-blind admissions policy and attract the best and brightest students in Armenia, regardless of their financial capacity.
“We have a rigorous program of scholarships where more than half of our students receive financial aid,” said Dr. Der Kiureghian, who noted that the University’s operating expenses are covered through donations. “It is essential that students receive some form of aid so all economic strata are represented at AUA”
Dr. Der Kiureghian highlighted two AUA donor programs in particular, one serving as the foundation and the other as the future. The 100 Pillars of AUA program, which is nearing its completion, gives donors the chance to be part of an elite club who contribute $50,000 over a five year period in unrestricted gifts that can be used where the University determines is most needed.
The “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign was created to build a special endowment to support Armenian women in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Technology in Armenia is advancing and we have many smart female students, especially from the rural areas, who will benefit from these scholarships and become part of Armenia’s advancement,” said Dr. Der Kiureghian. “Women are an untapped resource for Armenia’s rapidly growing IT sector.”
He then thanked the Kashian Family Foundation, that for years has provided scholarship opportunities for students from California State University, Fresno (Fresno State), to spend a semester abroad at AUA. He noted the presence of the Kashian Family Foundation President Georgeanne White and Vice President Tracy Kashian, elaborating on the partnership that has been “extremely beneficial” for participating students of Fresno State and AUA, who have formed great friendships.
“The interaction between the two schools enriches the lives and educational experiences of the students,” said Dr. Der Kiureghian as he presented symbolic gifts to Georgeann and Tracy.
Attesting to the beneficial results of the exchange program, three former Fresno State participants attended the event with their parents and spoke highly of their studies in Armenia.
Stephen Gonzalez, who was an AUA Spring 2018 study abroad participant, said he was proud and grateful to be in Armenia, particularly at a time when the country underwent a transformation during the Velvet Revolution, which enhanced Stephen’s experience even further.
“I thank the Kashian Family for allowing me, a non-Armenian, the chance to go to Armenia and study a culture that has had a lot of influence in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Stephen. “I have a lot of Armenian friends and learning their culture and their history in their homeland while walking on ancient soil was an amazing feeling.”
Although he was born in Armenia, Yervand Boyajyan moved to California at a young age and always had a desire to return. Through the Kashian Family Foundation’s partnership with AUA, he was able to do so as a study abroad participant in Spring 2018.
“I am grateful to the Kashian Family Foundation for giving us the opportunity to experience Armenia through such a unique educational opportunity,” said Yervand. “My time in Armenia and at AUA was memorable and made a lasting impact on me.”
As a history major, Avedis Khatchadourian appreciated his time studying in Armenia at AUA last summer. “I was able to see for myself so much of what I had read about in my history books,” said Avedis, who enjoyed his courses and instructors throughout the semester. “The teachers combined their lessons with multiple excursions so I was able to understand far more about Armenia and the rest of the world than I ever had before.”
Avedis remarked that he thought he would visit Armenia later on in his life but was happy he was able to travel there as a college student. “I am extremely grateful to the Kashian Family Foundation that gave me the chance to go to Armenia and study at AUA because this was an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Avedis.
Spending a career in public education, Dr. Lawrence Pitts, Chairman of AUA’s Board of Trustees, elaborated on AUA’s academic system, which was influenced by the University of California, where Dr. Pitts served as Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs. “UC has a merit-based admission policy that offers essential financial support and AUA has followed the same model,” said Dr. Pitts. “AUA admits students based on academic skill, which creates a highly valued environment of quality of classes and students as well as student success after graduation.”
He spoke about the freedom of expression at AUA and the “remarkable phenomenon” of the Velvet Revolution, which gave way to AUA alumni to assume high-ranking positions in the new government.
“AUA has accomplished what the initial founders wanted the University to achieve, including Western style education, values of academic knowledge, discussion and transparency,” said Dr. Pitts. “This is what AUA has brought to Armenia and it is now reflecting these values in the alumni who are serving senior positions in the country.”
Looking towards the future, Dr. Pitts said that AUA will continue to support education in the science and technology fields because it is a fast growing industry in Armenia and its products can be exported digitally, opening up a “world of opportunity.”
“Education is at the forefront and the best investment, in my judgment, that can be made in Armenia by contributing to the American University of Armenia,” said Dr. Pitts.
The evening concluded with a silent auction of an original William Saroyan watercolor painting that sold for $6,000 to Nishan and Andriana Majarian. The work, which was created in Fresno, California, and is dated December 2, 1969, reflects the creativity of the Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award winning author, playwright and artist. The painting was generously donated to AUA by the William Saroyan Foundation, headquartered in San Francisco to support AUA projects in Armenia.
“We thank our wonderful hosts, Nishan and Andriana Majarian, for bringing the Fresno Armenian community together to learn more about AUA,” said Dr. Der Kiureghian. “Hopefully many more will be inspired to visit our campus and become involved with the American University of Armenia.”