By Ruth Bedevian
YEREVAN — I came to my recent visit to the American University of Armenia (AUA) well aware of the graduate degree programs. My husband and I enjoyed watching the May 2016 graduation ceremony via YouTube. We were happy to learn the first class of undergraduate students will walk in their caps and gowns to receive diplomas in May 2017. There was indeed much progress and growth to celebrate at the recent 25th anniversary gala held in Los Angeles in November 2016.
However, I was totally unaware of AUA’s Extension programs and how they creatively train, improve skills and conduct a variety of necessary education for the general public (as well as continuing professional education courses to its alumni). I was drawn to learn more and met with both Dr. Sergey Tantushyan, director of AUA Extension, and Anahit Ghazarian, Extension operations manager, in the AUA Extension office, Room 110M Main Building at 40 Marshal Baghramyan Avenue.
The university is a hub of activity with modern infrastructure and environmental amenities that instill the students, staff and visitors with the obligation to protect the Earth. Signs at the elevators remind students, faculty, and visitors alike to take the stairs to save energy (and also to augment their daily exercise). Email communications are footnoted with the following advice: Thank you for considering the environmental impact of printing emails.
AUA is a US-accredited institution of the University of California and as such enjoys an exchange of valuable technical support and educational experience; and its exchange program and cooperation are popularly known. What might be less known, however, is the valuable outreach of services and continuing education available to Armenian citizens and neighbors beyond the borders.
Both in Great Britain and the United States, continuing education has enjoyed a long history and many titles — extension courses, professional development and with the advent of the Internet — distance education/learning. Continuing education as it is known commonly in the US had an impressive start at the University of California (UC). A forerunner (beginning in 1856), it took the lead in educating a multitude of citizenry during WW II, between 1940 and 1945, educating nearly one million California workers in classes related to defense. Pre-employment training prepared students to work in factories, farms and offices. Civilian defense and first-aid classes were taught for the general population. Training in military services programs included such subjects as principles of flying, office skills, and truck driving and maintenance. Adult educators included administrators, teachers, classified support staff, students, and community leaders. For more than a century, UC has provided learning opportunities for adults in California, across the US and throughout the world.
Thus it follows that AUA as UC’s affiliate since its inception 25 years ago, has established and grown a vibrant Continuing Education program which is commonly known in Armenia as AUA Extension. AUA Extension serves as the University’s principal interface with the community. As such, it provides compelling empowerment for Armenian society.
Operations manager, Anahit Ghazarian, explained, “We plan, design, develop and deliver a number of quality courses to meet the needs of most public and private sector organizations, as well as individuals at large. Our goal is to help individuals in fulfilling professional and/or career goals through flexible and innovative adult and continuing education programs, including training, workshops, and seminars. For example, for more than a decade the “Women Entrepreneurship Programme” has taught women how to set up and run a business. Tourism and hospitality industry is fast-growing globally and AUA Extension is keeping pace. We offer a comprehensive education in an inclusive ten-part course. We maintain affordable costs as well. For example, the average cost for an ESL (English as a Second Language) course varies from 100,000- 105,000 drams which is approximately $200.”
A typical ESL student in the United States finds a range of disproportionate costs anywhere from $700 to $2,000 a month!
Additionally, I was informed that Setrag Hovsepian, a recent AUA graduate, is meeting learners in their villages, giving an eight-week crash course in English on weekends. This is not a volunteer effort. The villagers pay an affordable amount. Naturally, they learn basics at best in eight weeks; nevertheless their interest and incentive are evident. Likewise, AUA Extension is farsighted in reaching those who live and work in the countryside, following a sound philosophy of finding a need and filling it.
Sergey outlined, “We focus in three critical directions. We offer courses in language, professional development and test preparation, all resulting in a certificate. Every year over 3,000 students in Yerevan and throughout Armenia and Artsakh take AUA Extension’s Language and Professional development courses. These courses are an outreach to non-matriculated students — those not seeking degrees. Professional course categories can be found on the AUA website. For example, there are 16 courses offered on social studies and global affairs. In the category of English six levels are offered and six more that provide refinement in English usage to ensure proficiency for English. Just to name a few: Business English, Business Writing, Effective Presentation and Public Speaking, and Specialized Professional English. Our courses are designed to develop all four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing while providing a strong foundation of vocabulary and grammar. We use a creative and interactive teaching approach to address the varied learning styles of our students and build confidence in their use of English. To ensure that learning is enjoyable and suited to all students’ needs, we use a range of complementary techniques and materials in addition to the core textbook.”
Additionally, AUA Extension conducts standardized test preparation courses, such as TOEFL IBT (Internet Based Test of English as a Foreign Language), GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) and GRE (Graduate Record Examination), Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification Test Preparation. AUA Extension is a registered education provider recognized by Project Management Institute. The course covers about 500 exam questions, exam strategy and important tips. PMP certification is a valuable credential for career development as the number of PMP members are growing across the globe.
Tantushyan added, “Not only are Test Preparation courses offered, but we administer the tests as well. AUA is the certified test center for most of the popular standardized exams, and the only testing center in the larger geographical area for steps 1 and 2 of US Medical Licensing exam (USMLE). The final Step 3 for USMLE takes place in the US only. The PMP test is fully administered at AUA. Test takers come from what is referred to as the Regions – Iran and the Commonwealth of Independent States (former USSR), such as Georgia, Russia etc. As a small example, our website for the month of November 2016 listed 9 dates for the TOEFL, standard administered to foreign students worldwide for entrance/acceptance into universities where English is the language of learning.”
He also explained how AUA Extension keeps current with the needs of the general public by visiting local businesses and institutions to learn what courses, seminars, and/or workshops will fit their needs for economic growth. AUA Extension helps in keeping its students well armored for 21st century advancement. Close cooperation between Extension and Academic and Research Programs at AUA has resulted in outstanding course offerings across corporate, governmental and non-profit organizations, with a keen eye to encourage civic engagement and promote public service.
On a personal note and an appropriate closure to my visit, I revealed a human interest story from my personal experience, telling them how AUA Extension had brought a fresh breath to our extended family life. My nephew met his future wife on a two-week volunteer work program one summer. He knew no Armenian and she knew no English. They began emailing upon his departure. How? A close friend who had taken English at AUA Extension translated from Armine’s Armenian dictation. Eventually, Armine began to learn English from the email. Nowadays, living in America, she is continuing to improve her English as a second language with adult education at a local college. It is all in the learning with the desire to improve one’s life and leap to wider horizons at home and on the world stage.
(Ruth Bedevian, as a member of the Alumni Network Board of Bergen Community College, collaborates with the PJR [Peace, Justice & Reconciliation] Office to generate Armenian Genocide education through innovative and creative programs. English Editor of My Odyssey, her Museum Series is found at the Armenian News Network – www.groong.org . She lives in New Jersey with her husband Sarkis and delights in her four grandchildren between frequent visits to Armenia.)