Instructor Story: An Interview with Nelson Baloian

Nelson Baloian, visiting associate professor in AUA’s Zaven & Sonia Akian College of Science & Engineering (CSE) kindly agreed to answer a few questions to let the AUA community get to know him a little bit better.

What influenced your choice of profession initially? Tell us a little bit about your background?

At first, I was studying hydraulics engineering at my university in Chile, and at some point I decided that I needed to know more about programming. I took two computer science courses and I liked them very much. I then started taking more computer science courses until eventually I dropped hydraulics. Before I graduated from my master’s program, the faculty members offered to support me to do a PhD outside of Chile with the condition that when I return I have to apply for a position at the department. I went to Germany to do my PhD, and when I returned I was accepted for a tenure track in the Department of Computer Sciences at the Universidad de Chile.

Tell us a little bit about your experience as an AUA faculty member. How do you like it? How did you come to choose AUA?

Since Armenia’s independence and the establishment of AUA, I have wanted to come to Armenia to teach in order to do something for this country and to have a reason to frequently visit, since I love being here. This opportunity came in 2014 when I learned that Bruce Boghossian was the president and Aram Hajian was dean of the engineering program because I knew them from the 80’s when we were all part of a mailing list for sharing news of Armenia and the Artsakh War. This was the beginning of the “Groong” news site. I contacted them and expressed my desire to teach at AUA. We then discussed opportunities for me to use my teaching experience at AUA based on my abilities and the needs of the University.

The experience has been fantastic and the response from the students has been encouraging. They make it clear that they want to learn what I am trying to teach them. I have met many very talented students with whom I am still working on research projects.

I published a scientific paper with one student who is now doing her PhD in the US. With two other former students we are developing a virtual khatchkar museum. They are very enthusiastic and committed. However, it has not always been easy. In the beginning, I had to adapt my teaching style to fit the behavior and learning style of the Armenian students, which is different in some respects compared to students in Chile, Germany or Japan, where I have taught in the past.

What do you think about Armenia’s current youth, judging from what you see at AUA? What is your perspective in regards to the future of Armenian academia?

Today’s Armenian youth are very talented, and most of them are hard working. Of course there are always exceptions, just like in every country in the world, but in general I have a good impression. Regarding Armenian academia, I fear that the lack of funding and critical mass hinders its development. This is a pity because there is a lot of talent in this country.  

Can you remember any curious, interesting, or funny things that happened involving students from AUA?

I remember that last year, in 2017, I was invited to go out by some of my former students from 2016, and we ended up telling each other stories about our families and realizing that we shared the same experiences even though we came from very different places. It was a moment in which we all felt that we were a part of the same family. We then made a promise to each other to work hard to make our little Armenia the best place in the world to live.

In general how would you define success in a career?

For me, having a dream or desire that encourages you to get up every day and work is more important than academic or even financial achievements. This is exactly how I feel about teaching at AUA.