100 Pillars of AUA: The Story of Vahe and Nora Sarkissian

To Vahe and Nora Sarkissian, the American University of Armenia (AUA) has the winning combination for success: it attracts the best and the brightest of students, houses world-renowned experts and professors, provides state-of-the-art facilities and resources and offers students multidisciplinary programs and curricula that solve problems and create opportunities. This past summer, Vahe and Nora had the pleasure of visiting campus as part of a University tour for the 100 Pillars of AUA. The couple lives in Silicon Valley and has raised three sons and seven grandchildren, instilling in them the same appreciation for education that they grew up with; Vahe’s father was the principal of several Armenian schools and his mother headed a kindergarten program. “I cannot wait for my grandchildren to attend AUA,” said Nora. “My boys were fortunate to receive an excellent education in America, but I want to see the same opportunities for the youth in Armenia.” Nora has always been a passionate educator and philanthropist. She co-founded the first Armenian day school in Silicon Valley and was one of its first teachers. She has also spent many years leading fundraising efforts for cancer research and education – causes she feels strongly about supporting.

After studying physics at the American University of Beirut, Vahe came to California and earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering and became a leading high tech executive in Silicon Valley, serving as a board member, president, CEO and chairman of various companies. “I am passionate about high technology in its multidisciplinary forms,” shared Vahe. “I have had the fortune to create and lead programs and businesses that have had a significant impact on information technology, drug discovery, and materials for industrial and consumer products. I believe technology in all forms is essential for the future, and Armenia must accelerate its advancement in high tech.” The Sarkissians recognize Armenia’s appeal as a safe, rapidly accelerating country with an advanced technological infrastructure where entrepreneurs can thrive, and where it is easy to do business in, invest in and trade with. They also see AUA as the vehicle launching Armenia to its full potential.

In a way, the story of AUA has followed a similar trajectory as that of the tech companies with which Vahe has worked over the years. “AUA has been a successful startup story with a clear vision, determined entrepreneurs and investors who believed in the mission and supported its execution,” reflected Vahe. “Built on its success of delivering results with focused objectives and a never-give-up attitude, AUA has successfully expanded its objectives, methodically addressing the needs of Armenia.” From opening as a graduate school in a downtrodden and desperate time in the country’s history, to expanding and growing into a fully accredited university offering undergraduate programs, Vahe believes AUA has adopted an excellent strategy for success. “When you think about it,” posited Vahe, “AUA is a model for startup incubation and success, backed by generous investors who believed in the mission and supported its incubation and growth.”

Drawing parallels from their Armenian heritage and faith, they stated, “When baptizing a child in the Armenian Church, the godfather is asked, ‘For what does the child wish?’ and the godfather answers ‘Faith, Hope, Love and Baptism.’” The Sarkissians believe it would be appropriate to add ‘education’ to that list as well. “Education is the foundation of your professional life and the key to your success,” said Nora, quoting the mantra by which she brought up her sons, Aram, Michael, and Shaunt. This is the message that they have passed to their children and grandchildren and the message they hope will resonate with the next generation of Armenians.

The Sarkissian’s visit to AUA solidified their confidence in the University, reassuring them that their contributions through the 100 Pillars program are paving the way for Armenia’s economic and social development. “AUA is a beacon that attracts, nurtures and launches the next generation of Armenian entrepreneurs and leaders,” reflected Vahe. “It will transform and uplift Armenia nationally and internationally. Pillars help keep the beacon brighter every passing year. We are thrilled to support this mission.”

The 100 Pillars of AUA is a group of 100 benefactors who contribute $50,000 to support the mission of the University. Currently, 64 loyal donors have become Pillars. Funding received through the 100 Pillars of AUA has allowed the University to hire additional internationally-sourced full-time faculty, increase funding for Professional Development Grants, and establish new degree programs. From the Center for Student Success to the AGBU Papazian Library, these contributors have allowed AUA to provide students with optimal resources and an unsurpassed level of education in Armenia.