Leaving a Legacy: From Founder to Pillar


 Stepan-Karamardian,-co-founder-of-AUAAUA is a bridge between Armenia and America on many grounds—culturally, academically…Remember, your responsibility is not only to yourself and your families, but to your country.” Stepan Karamardian, co-founder of AUA, in his address to the first class of AUA students in 1991

Dr. Stephan Karamardian, one of the co-founders of the American University of Armenia, was a generous man who saw a need in his homeland and responded by developing an institution that is providing the brightest minds of Armenia the tools they need to succeed. Stepan’s commitment to academia spread far and wide, over three countries, throughout his lifetime, and continues to be spread through the benevolence of those who knew and loved him. 

As an Armenian growing up in Syria, Stepan was passionate about education. After receiving his high school diploma from the American Missionary School in Lattakia, Stephan continued on to not only pass his Baccalaureate exam, but receive the highest score in Syria. In light of this, he was granted the honorable Fulbright Scholarship to attend Damascus University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and education. Even as an undergrad, Stepan was already a dedicated educator, working as a tutor for the Syrian President’s children.

After graduating from Damascus University, Stepan was offered the position of principal of the Karen Jeppe Armenian High School in Aleppo, Syria.  Although his original plan was to pursue a Ph.D abroad immediately, Stepan’s strong dedication to the Armenian community led him to accepting the position. His only request was that the commitment last only three years, so he could then pursue higher education abroad. Though Stepan was principal for only a short period of time, he made a great impact on the school and was held in such high regard that the graduation of the class of 1999 was dedicated to his memory.

After his three years as principal of Karen Jeppe, Stepan was met with yet another honor—he was sent to America by the Syrian government to further his education. Stepan earned his M.S. in mathematics from the University of Illinois in 1962, then attended University of California, Berkley for his PhD. in engineering. It was in California that he met Seta Der Torossian, who had just recently immigrated to the US from Syria with her family. In 1966, they were married and soon after welcomed three daughters: Liza, Vera and Rita. The family settled in Irvine and Stepan took on the role of Associate Dean at the University of California, Irvine. In 1982, he became Dean of the Graduate School of Management at University of California, Riverside and held this position until his retirement from UC system in 1991. Though retired, Stepan’s most important professional achievement was still ahead of him.

The idea which would develop into the American University of Armenia was conceived in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake of 1988.  Stepan was invited to join the team of Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian and Dr. Mihran Agbabian, with the support of AGBU and its President, Louise Simone, to create an American graduate university in Armenia. Thanks to his many years of service to the University of California, Stepan was instrumental in facilitating the University’s relationship with the UC Regents and the ultimate partnership of AUA and the University of California system. Upon the establishment of AUA, Dr. Karamardian assumed the role of Dean of the College of Business and Management, a position he held until his untimely passing in 1994.

 KaramardiansSeveral years ago, his family established the Stepan Karamardian Scholarship Fund in Stepan’s memory. Stepan understood the impact scholarships make; his own college and post-graduate education was supported by scholarships, without which he would never have had the opportunity to attend college and, eventually, be in a position to teach others. In regards to their scholarship, Stepan’s family stresses, “We would like the scholarship recipients to understand the importance of this scholarship to our family. Our father valued education and his Armenian homeland. He was so thrilled to see an independent Armenia, and very much hoped to see the country thrive and prosper. One of the hopes of our family is that the scholarship recipients stay in Armenia after graduation and help to create a thriving future as leaders of their professions.”

Arsen S.-Karamardian scholarshipArsen Sargsyan, the fortunate recipient of the 2008 Stepan Karamardian Scholarship, is turning the Karamardian family’s hope into a reality. After completing his undergraduate studies at Yerevan State University, he began working with Czech Airlines. He wanted to continue his education and study finance and management, but had a family to support and was unsure how he would be able to afford graduate school. “I discovered AUA, a unique place full of great opportunities for working professionals. Being a father and the only provider in the family, it was not easy to pursue a graduate degree. Despite the difficulties, I stayed focused and did well in my studies, graduating with 3.96 GPA and an MBA degree.” Arsen’s story is just one example of the many students who found success through AUA with the help of the Karamardian’s scholarship. “As a result of the knowledge and skills that I acquired at AUA, I currently serve as an executive director at the Union of Operators, providing mobile number portability services. My knowledge of physics and engineering, coupled with the finance and management training that I received at AUA, makes me a valuable member of my organization. In addition to receiving an excellent education at AUA, I learned the importance of giving back to society.”

Now, in addition to providing the named scholarship in Stepan’s honor, Seta Karamardian is supporting AUA through its 100 Pillars program in Dr. Karamardian’s name, enabling faculty and students to teach, learn and conduct research with the resources they need to excel. When asked what led to her decision to name Stepan as one of AUA’s 100 Pillars, Seta responded, “Stepan was a very proud Armenian and was very active in the community. He was so confident in AUA’s mission and proud of the University.” She hesitated momentarily before adding, “He always said, ‘I’m going to leave a legacy when I die’… maybe this is his legacy.”

The American University of Armenia is proud to carry on Dr. Stepan Karamardian’s legacy. Not only was he instrumental in the creation of our wonderful University, but he continues to inspire support on his behalf, even after his passing. We are proud to have Dr. Stepan Karamardian as part of AUA’s history and are so honored to have him as one of the 100 Pillars of AUA!