LOS ANGELES – The American University of Armenia (AUA) mourns the passing and at the same time celebrates the life of its co-founder and Founding President, Dr. Mihran Agbabian, who was a longtime benefactor to the University and played an instrumental role in establishing and shaping the academic institution.
During Armenia’s historical transition into nationhood in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Dr. Agbabian made a major impact on Armenia by setting the groundwork for what has now become known as one of the leading educational institutions in the region.
With few resources, he established the infrastructure for a university in every sense of the word, that included academic programs, offices for admissions, registrar, accounting, information and communication technologies, student council, alumni and career development office, and even the faculty senate. He organized the first graduation ceremonies in 1993 and developed relations with the government and other universities. Over the course of his five-year tenure as Founding President, Dr. Agbabian oversaw tremendous growth at AUA, which started with three degree programs in 1991 and added four more programs in subsequent years. Today, AUA offers 9 graduate and 5 undergraduate degree programs to nearly 2,000 students.
“I was fortunate to collaborate with Mihran in founding the University,” said Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian, current president of AUA and co-founder of the University. “He was a role model for me, a mentor, and a source of inspiration. His legacy will live on at AUA forever.”
Both Dr. Agbabian and Dr. Der Kiureghian were dispatched with a team of seismologists and earthquake engineers to Gyumri (Leninakan at the time) by the United States National Academy of Sciences following the tragic earthquake in 1988 in order to assess the effects of the earthquake and provide technical assistance. As engineers who were also involved in academia, Dr. Agbabian at the University of Southern California and Dr. Der Kiureghian at the University of California Berkeley, they saw the opportunity to create hope in Armenia through education and an American-style institution. The American University of Armenia (AUA) opened its doors on September 21, 1991, the same day that the Armenian Parliament declared independence, with Dr. Agbabian as the Founding President of the University, Dr. Der Kiureghian as the Founding Dean of the College of Engineering, and Dr. Stepan Karamardian as the Founding Dean of the College of Business. Since then, the University has influenced the lives of thousands of students and 4,000 alumni.
Born in Cyprus in 1923, Dr. Agbabian was raised in Aleppo, Syria, and studied at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, where he received two Bachelor’s degrees in Physics and
Engineering. He continued his education in the U.S. earning his Master’s degree in Engineering from the California Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Agbabian founded the consulting engineering firm, Agbabian Associates, and subsequently joined the faculty of USC as Chairman of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department from 1984-1992. Dr. Agbabian was an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, as well as a Distinguished Alumnus of UC Berkeley and Caltech. He was the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor; the Movses Khorenatsi Medal from the President of the Republic of Armenia for exceptional achievement in educational development; the Sahag-Mesrob Medal from His Holiness Karekin I, Catholicos and Supreme Patriarch of All Armenians; the Saint Mesrob Medal from His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the See of Cilicia; and the Saint Vartan Medal from His Holiness John Peter XVIII, Catholicos of the Armenian Catholic Church. Dr. Agbabian gave years of service to many organizations, including as a Central Board Member of AGBU, co-chair of the Boards of Haigazian University in Beirut and the Armenian Film Foundation in Los Angeles, a faithful member to the Armenian Missionary Association of America serving as its West Coast Vice Chair, and as co-Chair of the Armenian Assembly of America during its formative years. He was a member of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America and a member and former deacon of the United Armenian Congregational Church. Along with his equally dedicated wife, Elizabeth, AUA remained a priority in their lives as they worked hard in unison to build a strong foundation for the University, from California to Armenia. The couple instilled the same pride and commitment to AUA and the homeland in their three sons, Paul (married to Kate Nyberg), Bryan (married to Valina Ghoukassian), and Michael, as well as their three granddaughters, Sabrina, Erika, Lori, and a grandson, Arman.
The AUA community will forever remember Dr. Agbabian for his lifelong commitment and love to AUA and his homeland.
In lieu of flowers the Agbabian family suggests memorial donations are made to AUA (https://philanthropy.aua.am/) or AMAA.