American University of Armenia Sets Sights on Global Reach


By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

WATERTOWN — The president of the American University of Armenia (AUA), Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian, recently visited the United States, where he embarked on a tour in order to raise the profile of the university in the west and seek the necessary funds to make the university a destination school in the Caucasus, ahead of the school’s 25th anniversary next year.

As he said in promotional material for the fundraising, “The next few years will be the most transformative and exciting for AUA. After building the foundation, we are now on a trajectory that will propel AUA into the international arena.”

He had come to the Boston area for a fundraiser in April, but also to spread the word in the large Armenian community in a state which happens to have an inordinately large number of excellent universities. “Our goal is to develop an exchange program” between the universities here with AUA, he said.

The university already has an office in Oakland, Calif., and is looking to create one in the Boston area.

“We want professors taking sabbaticals to come interact, research and teach. We need this turnover, visitors for anywhere from one semester to one year,” Der Kiureghian said.

As Der Kiureghian explained, it is a win-win proposition: “Diasporan Armenians, when they come to AUA to study, will become acquainted with their homeland, get attached to Armenia. Some may come back. It will create a lifelong contract.”

“We would like to have international students too, as non-Armenians come, they become friends of Armenia,” he added.

“Our vision is to make Armenia a destination for education and knowledge,” he said.

The university was accredited in 2006 by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WASC-SCUC), the only one in the region. What this means is that a degree from AUA can be recognized in the US. It also is affiliated with the University of California.

“We are the only US-accredited university in the former Soviet Union,” Der Kiureghian said. That is why, he said, the school would like to increase the number of students who will study abroad there, and receive proper credits.

So far, the foreign exchange students come primarily from the US and specifically from California.

During a visit to the office of the Mirror-Spectator, he and Lorraine Alexander, AUA’s vice president for development and external affairs, spoke about his hopes for the future of the university, as well as the challenges that he and his predecessors have met.

The purpose of the trip, Alexander said, is to build an endowment of $50 million, which would give the university a strong financial foundation as it goes into the future.

Of that chunk, the US government donated $11.5 million in 2006 as part of its American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) program.

The school, Der Kiureghian said, currently has 1,200 students, half of whom are undergraduates. “In two years, we will have close to 2,000 students. We are exhausting our physical capacity,” he said.

Der Kiureghian, originally from Iran, is on loan from the University of California, Berkley, where he is the Taisei Professor of Civil Engineering. One of the founders of AUA at the moment that Armenia gained independence, he has been at UC Berkley for 37 years.

He noted that while AUA’s standing does not compare globally to UC Berkley, it is on the cusp “of a positive slope that I can feel and see,” thus more satisfying in some ways as UC Berkley is already at the top of its game.

Currently the university offers three majors for undergraduates, English and communications, computation sciences and business/marketing. It also offers eight degree programs for graduate students.

It was only last year that the school started offering an undergraduate program.

He also praised the United World College (UWC) Dilijan College, an international high school with a global perspective and a collaborative approach, with other branches in Europe, Asia and South America. Armenia is the only country in the region. That school, he added, can be a good feeder school. Similarly he praised the Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian School in the Malatya-Sebastia district of Yerevan. Edward Avedisian and his family, through the Armenian Missionary Association of America, revived the school and will pay their AUA tuition.

The Armenian government has passed a law that ensures that the citizens of Iraq, Syria and Ukraine who are in Armenia, should pay no more than the local Armenian citizens, which is the equivalent of $2,300 to $3,000 annually.

Also included in that number are diasporan Armenians who have 10-year visas.

“We have need-blind admission. Half get waivers anywhere from 20 to 90 percent,” he added.

For international students, the annual tuition for undergraduate and graduate programs ranges from $5,000 to $9,000, figures welcome to many in the US suffering from college sticker shock.

“We have a strong merit-based system. Our whole teaching system is different. The student-teacher interaction [is different]. We encourage thinking critically and participation in debates,” Der Kiureghian noted.

In addition to increasing the number of buildings, the extra funding would set up an innovation and technology incubation center, where students and faculty can come together, Der Kiureghian said.

Alexander said, “I want to use my 25 years of fundraising experience to build an institution I believe can help grow the country and sustain the future. I am very proud to give back.

The school is raising its profile locally; they had 83 events in March, an all-time high.

For more information on AUA, visit aua.am

AUAarmen_derkiureghian

Prof. Armen Der Kiureghian