Famous Chicago Restaurateur’s Scholarship Fund Allows AUA Public Health Graduate to Reach New Heights

Yerevan– Referred to as “the jewel” of Chicago’s Armenian community, the late Zaven Kodjayan, owner of Zaven’s Restaurant, is remembered by loved ones for his generosity and dedication. Through the 27 years his restaurant thrived on Chicago’s Gold Coast, Zaven made a name for himself not only as an excellent restaurateur, but also as a caring, thoughtful, and charismatic individual.

Born in Lebanon, Zaven was the second of four children. He was a good student who spoke 10 languages and was an active reader with a photographic memory. Tragically, when an unfortunate accident left his mother unable to support the family, Zaven left high school and entered the workforce full time. Despite being unable to finish his education, Zaven found his own route to success, devoting his nights to learning the hotel business. At the age of 21, Zaven left Lebanon and began a career in hospitality, first working in Kuwait, then Paris. A notable talent, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime when an American businessmen invited him to Chicago to manage a restaurant. In 1975, he opened Zaven’s Restaurant.

Throughout his life, Zaven exuded generosity; he regularly donated to a multitude of Armenian charities and helped coordinate assistance after the 1988 earthquake devastated Armenia. To honor her late husband’s memory, Mrs. Rhonda Kodjayan established the Zaven O. Kodjayan Scholarship Fund at the American University of Armenia, supporting students and empowering them through the power of education. “He loved life and he loved to serve everybody who graced his doorway,” remembers Rhonda fondly.

Karine Minasyan (MPH 2015) was the recipient of the Zaven O. Kodjayan Scholarship in 2013. After graduating, she was appointed by the Armenian Ministry of Health as a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist at the National Tuberculosis Control Center. Her MPH thesis project on the clinical outcomes and quality of life after off-pump versus on-pump coronary artery bypass grafting in Armenia was implemented in collaboration with Yerevan’s Nork Marash Medical Centre.

In addition to her successful career in the field of public health, Karine has also cofounded a non-governmental organization (NGO) by the name of “Help Children” which is committed to giving at-risk youth opportunities for a happy childhood. “Help Children” originated from a group of MPH students who would frequently visit orphanages to spend time with children, help them with their homework, and provide them with emotional support. The organization has now expanded beyond orphanages, both in Yerevan and rural regions. Its activities include special events for kids, charity concerts, and physician visits.

“Words are not enough to influence one’s thoughts and ideas, rather the decisions made and actions taken that can affect and motivate others,” shares Karine. “One of the best sources of motivation is the feeling of being valued—when you realize that your efforts to accomplish set goals are noticed and appreciated. The Zaven O. Kodjayan Scholarship encouraged and pushed me to work harder to climb as high as possible while pursuing my graduate studies. AUA gave me the opportunity to learn from well-known professors from the best universities around the world. It helped me develop self-confidence and skills that continually guide me to overcome any difficulties that I encounter. As a public health professional, I am able to contribute toward the improvement of health services in Armenia through my research, and build a better and stronger public health system in my country.”

Karine’s story is just one example of how education can not only transform an individual’s life, but can also cause a chain reaction that leads to the betterment of the country as a whole.  It is only fitting that Zaven Koyadjian, a man who was known for his generosity and commitment to Armenia, have his legacy in the form of a scholarship fund at AUA, where it will continue to give opportunities to new students who will, in turn, give back to Armenia.  

Securing scholarships for promising students is a priority for AUA and will be a focus of the   25th anniversary Gala being held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on November 19. Longtime AUA benefactors Dr. Mihran & Mrs. Elizabeth Agbabian will be among those being honored for their ongoing generosity and commitment to the University. The evening’s keynote speaker will be entrepreneur/philanthropist Ruben Vardanayn. An exclusive clip previewing the upcoming film “The Promise” (directed by Terry George and starring Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac and Charlotte Le Bon) will also be shown. Please contact Lorraine Alexander at lalexander@aua.am for sponsorships and tickets.

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia and affiliated with the University of California. AUA provides US-style education in Armenia and the region, offering high-quality, graduate and undergraduate studies, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting public service and democratic values. 

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Karine Minasyan, MPH 2015, receiving her diploma on graduation day. 

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Karine cofounded a non-governmental organization by the name of “Help Children”, along with a few other MPH graduates. 

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Karine enjoys Armenia’s outdoor activities in her spare time. 

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“The Jewel” of Chicago’s Armenian communitythe late Zaven Kodjayan and his wife.