GLENDALE– On December 7, 2019, Vahe and Ruzan Kuzoyan hosted a “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign event, at their home in Glendale, bringing together over 100 supporters of the American University of Armenia (AUA). “AUA has a special place in our hearts,” said Kuzoyan in her welcoming remarks. “We truly believe that STEM education is vital for the future of Armenia. Promoting this education and promoting women in tech will be the driving force for economic success in Armenia.”
Following the host’s uplifting welcome, Alene Aroustamian, senior executive administrator of ServiceTitan, announced the exciting news of ServiceTitan’s commitment to establish an endowed scholarship fund at AUA to support the “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign. This endowed gift will provide scholarships to female students majoring in engineering, computer and data sciences at AUA.
Welcoming the attendees next was Gaiane Khachatrian, AUA director of development, who first spoke about the symbolism of December 7th ⎯ the day of the 1988 earthquake so deeply connected with the founding of the University and the story of AUA. It was the Spitak earthquake that had brought together the AUA founders to decide on the most effective course of action for making a sustained impact in Armenia. The decision was to establish a Western-style institution of higher learning, which became a reality in 1991. “AUA continues to make a remarkable impact by educating generations of scientists, leaders, and entrepreneurs who are continuously striving to make Armenia better, brighter and more prosperous,” remarked Khachatrian.
She then spoke briefly about the “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign, highlighting that it has raised over $600,000 to date, a quarter of the $2.5M goal, which will enable the University to grant up to 100 scholarships every year to female students enrolled in science and engineering, in perpetuity.
A panel discussion followed led by Lusine Yeghiazaryan, vice president and chief audit executive at GoPro, Inc., with panelists Annie Safoian, co-founder of SADA Systems; Armen Martirosyan, co-founder and CEO of BluIP; Nina Achadjian, principal of Index Ventures; and Raffi Kassarjian, general manager, Emerging Products Group at TeamViewer. The discussion centered on the breakthroughs of the IT industry and other emerging technologies around the world; the opportunities the industry creates for Armenia, the shortage and competition for talent in those fields, and the pivotal role AUA continues to play in preparing the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders in the country.
Yeghiazaryan delineated the opportunities and challenges that women face in choosing STEM careers both in Armenia and elsewhere, against the backdrop of a rapidly changing technological landscape and the equalizing social effect and wealth that new technologies could bring to small nations. She also drew attention to the various factors that contribute to the lower participation by women in the development of STEM literacy, including insufficient access to advanced quality education, and lower numbers of women in the talent pipeline ensuing from the lack of coaching, career management, as well as work-family balance policies.
Achadjian contributed invaluable insights on the challenges as well as opportunities for STEM careers for women, with a focus on entrepreneurship. She reflected on the skillset and mindset needed to be successful in the competitive global arena. “When we look at the Armenian story, there is one characteristic that we all share: resilience. When investing in entrepreneurs, resilience is a quality many venture capitalists look for,” Achadjian said. “It is for this reason, among others, I am excited by the future of tech and entrepreneurship in Armenia and believe we all have a role to play in supporting the STEM ecosystem there.”
As the female founder of a successful, high-growth tech company, Safoian shared her experience as a first-generation Armenian-American co-founding SADA Systems, which was one of the first Google Apps partners in the world, and today is a Google Cloud Premier Partner and 2018 Global Partner of the Year. She reflected on SADA’s story and stressed the significance of education for girls and young women, the need for empowerment, and the importance of authenticity and resilience.
A corporate leader with extensive expertise serving on boards and running Armenian companies, Kassarjian provided an insightful perspective on the corporate working environment in Armenia. He shared thoughts and advice on launching and leading startups while raising a family in modern-day Armenia. As a former AUA faculty member and Repat Armenia co-founder, Kassarjian offered perspectives on education and employment in Armenia, as also touching on Armenia-Diaspora relations and collaboration opportunities.
Martirosyan, reflecting on his extensive experience as a successful entrepreneur, spoke about some essential characteristics, such as resourcefulness, problem-solving, common sense approach and technical excellence, that allow Armenian companies to successfully compete and create their differentiating business advantages. He then offered insights into what it takes to be a successful Armenian entrepreneur serving global clients, the role of women on teams and leadership, as well as what it takes to increase the number of women in STEM careers.
Following the Q&A session that concluded the panel discussion, Gaiane Khachatrian invited current AUA student Lilit Yenokyan, a scholarship recipient majoring in computer science at AUA. Yenokyan traveled earlier in the week to Southern California from Armenia and spoke to attendees about her personal journey; her dreams and ambitions to build a successful career in the field of technology, and highlighted how crucial scholarship support is to increase the opportunities for higher education and women in STEM. “I came to AUA with an open mind and heart,” said Yenokyan, who comes from the small town of Sisian in Armenia with big dreams. “AUA became my cultural and academic home.”
After just a year of studies at AUA, Yenokyan was offered an internship at Joomag Inc., one of the leading startup companies in Armenia. She now works as an infrastructure specialist at Joomag Inc.
“AUA is very different from other universities in the country, as it understands and values the significance of general education,” said Lilit. “By studying computer science, we do not just specialize in the field; we become well-aware and knowledgeable citizens of Armenia and global leaders of the world. I am deeply grateful for the help that AUA and its community are giving to students to pursue their dreams. There are many girls like me in different regions who are eager to learn, but many of them do not have the chance I have for education, growth, and self-development. The scholarship AUA donors provide is not only helping individual women, but also reshaping a whole generation of Armenian youth. Armenia is in the center of the fast-developing era of technologies and innovations, and we need equal participation in the field of IT from all members of our society. Yes, Armenian women can and we will create a better Armenia, but we need your support and encouragement to thrive!”