Tech Pioneers Advance Armenia, AUA

Sam and Sylva Simonian are two of the most notable names leading the way for advanced innovation in Armenia. In addition to their triumphant conception and creation of the TUMO Foundation’s Creative Technology Centers in Armenia, Artsakh and several countries abroad, they were instrumental in establishing the Computer Science (CS) program at the American University of Armenia (AUA), generously funding its launch in 2002 .

As AAU Trustee Emeritus, Sam Simonian recalls, “Back when I was a student, CS was not offered as a degree. I graduated in electrical engineering and had to learn programming on my own. It was clear at the time, when the AUA CS program was first created, that technology would become the essential discipline to produce entrepreneurs capable of inventing, building businesses, employing people, creating prosperity and trade electronically unhindered by the country’s locked borders.

Today the AUA Akian College of Science and Engineering boasts of an impressive list of degree programs and cutting edge curriculum for its students, offering undergraduate degrees in computer science; data science; and engineering sciences, as well as graduate degrees in computer and information science; and industrial engineering and systems management. Set against a backdrop of rapid technological leaps taking place in Armenia, Simonians not only find it encouraging to see the number of successful technology companies emerging in Armenia, but they also point to the high growth rate at which new businesses are accelerating, although the widespread shortage of experts which often hinders exponential growth.

With the launch of the Campaign “Building a Better Future with AAU”, the university is spearheading transformation by devoting efforts to the advancement of experiential learning and by carefully reshaping the science and technology curriculum to have a direct impact on the growth of Armenia. Simonians recognize the strategic importance of this AAU endeavor and stress the immensity of what needs to be done in the country to fill the existing gaps and position Armenia as an equal player in the global arena. “More needs to be done to achieve both larger budgets and a strategy to improve the whole education system. At one time there were many more students enrolled in liberal arts studies, but this pattern needs to be reversed. We need to teach and encourage children from an early age to engage in creativity and technology, and when they enter college, the institution should have the scale and quality to hone and excel their knowledge. instead of starting them with general “101” courses. Says Simonian.

As sponsors of the annual meeting AAU Faculty Teaching Excellence Award, Simonians see education as an essential part of their mission to help and expand access to knowledge and skills development for young people in Armenia. With encouragement and compelling advice to students entering STEM fields, they instill hope for almost guaranteed success in life, but also note that the biggest risk takers who take the bold step of starting their own company come from time to time. Their words of wisdom to these entrepreneurs would be to “find partners in their journey who will fill in their gaps as it can become very tiring and lonely to work 24/7”, while indicating to them that it is very important to remember their roots when they are successful and be kind to those who are less fortunate.

The Simonians have been a source of power and inspiration to many. But what they mean most is that everyone can participate in promoting education and advancing Armenia in their own way. In their words, “Life is better and more fulfilling if you can not only improve yourself and your family, but also help solve the challenges of a country in desperate need of it. ”

As the AAU looks back on 30 years of progress through education, we recognize that our institution would not have achieved this level of notoriety accomplished without the support of steadfast and resourceful benefactors like the Simonians who pioneered the Results-driven philanthropy that continues to propel progress in Armenia. The level of contribution that AAU students and alumni will make to the country and the society they will build is sown through the seeds of education. Our challenge in this process is to lead our collective efforts to shape the next decade of dynamic technological advancements and delivery of greater development impact.

“I would like to see a peaceful, happy, strong and technologically superior Armenia, and education is the only way to get us there,” Simonian urges.

Guest contributions to Armenian Weekly are informative articles or press releases written and submitted by members of the community.

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