A CHANCE TO SHINE: EDUCATOR RETURNS TO HELP DEVELOP BRAIN POWER
by Gayane Abrahamyan
The bright idea of the Luys (Light) Foundation led 52-year-old Jacqueline Karaaslanian to change her life dramatically, leave her career at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and start a new phase of her life, in Armenia.
For more than 25 years at MIT, including as a special projects director (Future of Learning Group), Karaaslanian had worked on developing educational programs worldwide. In 2009, she was invited to apply her talents in Armenia as the Foundation's director.
"What grabbed me immediately was the vision of the program and how rich it was," she says. "I think it will be a very powerful tool for the development of Armenia, and through this program we could connect all of the wealth of our minds together and put it in action."
The Foundation gets sponsorship from businesses (Grand Tobacco and Viva Cell MTS, for example) to offer scholarships to Armenian students (including diasporan), who earn admission to any of the world's top 25 universities, as determined according to the annual U.S. News and World Report ranking. Students may choose any field of study. The Executive Board of six leaders and educators is led by President Serzh Sargsyan and includes Prime Minister Tigran Sarkissian and Minister of Finance Tigran Davtian. So far, it has assisted 16 students since its establishment in 2008.
"All prerequisites for achieving success are encouraged through this program," Karaaslanian says. "The government has defined the right vision and it was simply necessary to put it on the right track. That was very attractive for me."
A second mission of the Foundation is to utilize the intellectual resources of the Luys scholars.
"When we give scholarships to students, we don't demand that they live in Armenia, but we do demand that from the beginning they start working with us on different projects which we are doing and will do in the future within the 'Develop Armenia' program," she says. (The Foundation plans to use its alumni to lead seminar and mentor programs in fields that include law, computer science, architecture and engineering, and physics.)
It is the Foundation's policy to cover 50 percent of a student's necessary expenses, while encouraging the student-scholar (up to age 40) to find other funding for the remaining half. Karaaslanian points out that AGBU is a main source applicants turn to.
"The message to a student is: 'Get accepted and we will support you,'" says Karaaslanian. "I want to say thanks to AGBU for the cooperation. We're all supporting the same efforts and building the future."
Karaaslanian lived in France for 10 years before moving to the U.S. She visited Armenia in 1993, for the first time since her family left when she was 10 (1966).
"I'd always had in my mind the thought of working in Armenia, but I needed an occasion, and the Foundation became that occasion," Karaaslanian says. "Now I feel happy here. This is an opportunity to do something for Armenia in my modest way. I brought here not only my knowledge, but also my huge network of professionals, which will help me to put the focus on Armenia.
"This makes me feel that now I'm in the right place, doing something very important."