By Sona Zeitlian

On March 5,th, AGBU Hye Geen and AGBU Hye Geen’s Young Circle, held a landmark conference on the topic of “Armenian Youth and Higher Education: Challenges and Opportunities.” The conference, held at Woodbury University in Burbank, featured presentations by distinguished professionals, who addressed a large audience gathered at the Fletcher Jones auditorium. The conference featured the participation of Armenian-American university students who represented nine Armenian Students’ Associations (ASA) of area colleges and universities. The conference showcased the careful planning and efficient teamwork of members of Hye Geen, Young Circle and members of the area ASAs.

The day’s agenda featured insightful presentations by speakers and a question and answer session moderated by the students themselves. For the occasion, the Conference Committee of AGBU Hye Geen and Young Circle had also prepared a booklet which featured the biographies and pictures of the speakers, an overview of AGBU Hye Geen’s and Young Circle’s previous conferences, an address by Sona Yacoubian, Founder and Chairperson of AGBU Hye Geen, dedication pages in memory of exceptional educators, and finally an announcement for the inaugural Summer 2016 Youth Internship initiative launched by AGBU Hye Geen for local high school students for a 4-week summer placement in their field of study in the Los Angeles area.

After opening remarks by Mihran Toumajan of AGBU Young Circle, AGBU Western District Chair Talin Yacoubian, Esq., delivered a welcoming address. She underlined the dedication of the venerable organization to education by establishing schools throughout the diaspora, then the University of Armenia, and centers of technological innovation, always with a vision for the promotion and advancement of the nation.

Setting the pattern of having a student presenter for each speaker, the keynote, Dr. Mary A. Papazian speaker was introduced by Garnik Michael Potikian, Vice-President of Woodbury Armenian Students’ Association Executive Board.

Currently President of Southern Connecticut State University and, from July 1, 2016 appointed president of San Jose State University, Dr. Mary A. Papazian’s topic was “Pathways to Professional and Cultural Success in Higher Education.”

Tracing her own education from Ferrahian School to UCLA to pursue her passion for English literature, Dr. Papazian discussed the core humanist traditions of civic engagement. Then came the realization of rapidly evolving changes “spreading cutting-edge technologies to every corner of the country – and indeed the world – and beginning to make innovations, once consigned to the realm of science fiction, a reality for millions of Americans.”

Dr. Papazian explained that the global marketplace has created the need to prepare for “global lives”, competing for jobs at home and abroad.” Then she shared with her rapt listeners, “My advice to you during the course of your college career is: travel, see the world, learn how others live; it will bring you a whole new perspective that will only benefit your future life and career.”

Dr. Papazian reminded students of the increasing importance of foreign-language proficiency and an expanded knowledge of economics, history and geography. She recommended a liberal arts education that develops critical thinking, communications skills, ethical judgment, integrity, intercultural knowledge and “the capacity for continued new learning, all in demand in today’s marketplace.”

The keynote speaker concluded, “As the economy becomes more technology-based, the need and amount of education will rise. My final message to you is… never take for granted the opportunity to think, the privilege to serve, and the opportunity to make a contribution, wherever you may be.”

The second speaker was Dr. Albert K. Karnig, President Emeritus of California State University, San Bernardino, who was introduced by Lori Pridjian, Vice-President of the University of Southern California’s Armenian Students’ Association Executive Board. Dr. Karnig’s topic was “Educational Strategies to Counter the Challenges of Global Competitiveness and Global Innovation.”

He first focused on global competition and the swift pace of technological change, posing challenges for students in pursuit of higher education, career opportunities and well-paying jobs. The new economy should be based on educational flexibility, he argued, whereas previously a high school diploma was enough to find a decent job. He also noted that, since 1982, more women have been attending universities and graduating with the intention of continuing their education and becoming competitive in the job market.

Citing humorous anecdotes from his long experience, Dr. Karnig underlined the need to empower our youth and develop the next generation of leaders with university degrees, insuring skills and success. He further advised assessment tests to focus on career choices. “These choices must engender excitement and commitment with passion. It is also useful to seek internship programs geared toward high school graduating classes, to get involved in community activism and to anchor oneself by becoming a mentor.”

The third speaker, Dr. Nelly Titizian-Kazman, senior Executive Director of La Verne University’s San Fernando Valley campus, was introduced by Michael Matossian, Chair of All-Armenian Students’ Associations. Dr. Kazman’s topic was “Higher Education as a Doorway to Opportunities for Armenian American Leadership.”

She began by affirming that, “to survive and succeed in today’s fast-paced globalized world, one must learn to adapt quickly to constantly changing environments.” She explained that the major shift in today’s economy, from manufacturing jobs to knowledge-based technical skills has prompted employers to look for innovative thinking, teamwork readiness, oral and written communications aptitude and cultural competence, to re-invent oneself and stay current in the scheme of global development.

Dr. Kazman advised the students of the new world order to find their passion and the motivation to realize “their vision,” to identify their strengths and talents, creating values which differentiate them from others and develop leadership skills. This, in turn, she stated, can be achieved by building “a personal capital of self-reliance and confidence and a social capital based on fostering relationships through collaborative efforts.”

The short lunch break became an opportunity for the students to interact with the distinguished educators, to network and establish relations with fellow members of other Armenian Students’ Associations.

The afternoon sessions started with Ms. Alice Petrossian, Past President of the Association of California School Administrators. She was introduced by Edit Martirosyan, a sophomore from Glendale Community College. Ms. Petrossian’s topic was “Nurturing the Pursuit of Higher Education Among Armenian Students.”

Citing contributing factors to success in higher education, Ms. Petrossian referred to the roles of parents and the extended family in sustaining motivation, in encouraging their children to exceed testing and later college preparatory benchmarks.

“The characteristics of success are the refusal to live in the past, to discard suspicion, resentment and regret, not to waste time and energy in fighting conditions that cannot be changed, not to indulge in self-pity, and above all, to get involved in civic engagement while pursuing the goal you have marked for yourself.”

Ms. Petrossian warned that “in the newer, immigrant Armenian community, there is a mentality that in order to land a high-paying job immediately, one can be satisfied with just a high school education. But as college education is underestimated, there will be fewer and fewer opportunities for success. On the other hand, to reassure the success of students in their chosen fields, their autonomy, mastery and the development of emotional intelligence cannot be overlooked. It is also essential to sustain an innovative and creative environment at all times.”

She concluded by affirming, “Our goal today is to advocate, to be a role model, a mentor to the next generation so that our community can continue to flourish.”

The second speaker of the afternoon was Ms. Hasmik Kyureghyan, lead specialist of the Department of Teacher Training and Development at the National Program for Educational Excellence in Armenia and development coordinator at Ayb School. She was introduced by Morris Sarafian, who is a UCLA senior and political activism director of the University’s Armenian Students’ Association. Ms. Kyureghyan’s topic was “the Ten-Year Experience of Ayb Educational Foundation, a new Learning Culture in Armenia and Beyond.”

Ms. Kyureghyan stated that ten years ago, Ayb Educational Foundation was established by a group of eight friends, with the intention of integrating various stakeholders into a high quality educational environment. This was achieved by “launching state-of-the-art science labs, introducing top international contests and building 21st century schools across Armenia.”

The Foundation also mapped out the National Program for Educational Excellence, a grand project of collaboration involving “the government of Armenia, Cambridge University and University College, London.” In Armenia, Ayb Foundation’s master classes have inspired the youth to have confidence in their potential and aim high through participation in nationwide mathematics, linguistics, science and robotics contests. With 20,000 trained teachers, it has elevated the profession into a “dream job,” wherein the country’s best educational traditions are merged with contemporary learning technologies.

With the help of a video clip, the speaker demonstrated the Foundation’s plans for constructing new schools and “developing an internationally recognized high school platform.” Their Araratian Baccalaureate is a diploma in high demand, and 51 graduates are enrolled in the world’s 28 top universities. It is also highly valued by the national curriculum it has promoted.
The last speaker was Dr. Armen Mkrtchyan, a specialist of Aeronautics and Astronautics with a Masters and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and currently teaching at the American University in Armenia and directing its Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center. He was introduced by Lilia Kavarian, a senior at California State University, Los Angeles. Dr. Mkrtchyan’s topic was “Accelerating Entrepreneurship in Armenia.”

Referring to the main challenges of a well-defined national strategy for higher education in Armenia, the speaker underlined, “an outdated approach to learning, insufficient resources for human capital development, low level of general managerial staff, a shortage of professionals, and a lack of leaders with long-time vision.” He said he is concerned about the high level of unemployment, which affects the drive to emigrate and seek employment opportunities abroad.

Dr. Mkrtchyan expressed confidence that education can still become an advantage for Armenia with “lifelong education as a new teaching and learning paradigm, provided research universities can be created with innovative technological labs, when teaching becomes a prominent profession with appropriate levels of compensation and when professionals repatriate, transforming the brain drain into brain circulation.”

Discussing the University of Armenia-affiliated Entrepreneurship Center, the speaker recommended “academic and critical thinking, the creation of hands-on learning opportunities, and fostering of hardware development capabilities for the students. Lecture series, seminars and workshops, as well as mentoring services and student-faculty networks are to be encouraged.”

The conference concluded with a question and answer session with the speakers, which was moderated with great efficiency by the students representing the participating ASAs. The questions were focused on the necessity for changes in our approach to education and the strategies for the creation of new opportunities in the global marketplace.

AGBU Hye Geen’s and Young Circle’s 10th Annual Conference energized the students and reinforced the value of teamwork. Guided by the distinguished professionals and the commitment of the organizers, students and audience members alike were inspired to get involved in their community and pursue their passions confidently.

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