Alumni Success Story: Vahagn Vardanyan (MBA ’97) Connects Armenia and Asia
After graduating from the Armenian State University of Economics, Dr. Vahagn Vardanyan (MBA ’97) continued his education at the American University of Armenia (AUA). He went on to receive a second master’s degree in international affairs from Missouri State University in the United States under the Edmund Muskie Fellowship program, then a doctorate in geopolitics and political geography from the National University of Singapore.
For nearly a decade after graduation, Dr. Vardanyan worked for the Armenian Development Bank in various managerial positions, including deputy CEO of the bank. In 2005, he made a career shift taking a position teaching economics in Beijing and in Singapore. He worked as head of high school and coordinator of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) at Chinese International School (at present — Hillside World Academy) in Singapore for eight years. In 2017, he was invited to join the Han (Chinese) Academy in Hong Kong as its founding vice-principal and head of the IB Diploma Programme. Dr. Vardanyan kindly accepted to share his work and life experience with our readers in the below interview.
Your educational background and expertise range from business and economics to political geography. Tell us about the decision to change spheres so drastically.
My first two degrees were closely related to my job. My interdisciplinary academic background has been a reflection of my personal academic interests, and it has shaped my professional qualifications and skills. I usually say that although very different, all these spheres are interconnected and the knowledge in one helps me to excel in the others.
Please share insights on the different educational experiences you had in Armenia and abroad. Where does AUA stand with its role in providing quality education?
AUA was very different from what we were used to in the 90s. It was like an island of innovative ideas and approaches. The fact that we were connected to the internet and had such an amazing library was a great inspiration to us. The methods and approaches our professors used were also very innovative. Studying and working at a bank at the same time was an exceptional opportunity back in those years.
AUA excels not only in the quality of education it provides, but also in the skills and values it teaches. The program I have been engaged in and have been teaching for years — International Baccalaureate is considered one of the best pre-university educational programs and attaches great importance to academic honesty. AUA did the same and prepared me well for progressing in my career and integrating into life outside Armenia more smoothly.
How do you use the knowledge and experience gained at AUA and while working abroad to further develop Armenia?
This is a very important question. Every individual should have a firm realization of his/her Armenian identity.
I visit Armenia quite often and make sure to keep my connection with the American University of Armenia too. That link became even stronger after the Alumni Reunion event in 2017. I was the responsible person for the MBA ’97 cohort during the event. I have also given two lectures at AUA recently [Development Philosophy of a Small Nation-State: The Case of Singapore in January 2020 and Diaspora and the Homeland: Connection Through Spaces in February 2016]. Another great indicator of appreciation of Armenia and the American University of Armenia is the fact that my daughter is an AUA student too.
What were the main differences you have noticed coming back to the University as a guest speaker and/or as a parent?
The most noticeable differences are the bigger campus and the innovative technological systems all around it. From an academic point of view, watching my daughter in her studies as a sophomore student, I can tell that the quality of education and the way it is delivered is still top. Even now, when AUA has temporarily switched to online learning because of the pandemic, the quality of classes has not suffered at all and I highly appreciate the huge amount of work that is done to make this happen.
What advice would you give to current AUA students for future success? What should their main area of focus be?
Your imagination is the limit! I studied at AUA in the previous century. Being representatives of the 21st century, you should realize that there are little to no limitations to what you can achieve. An expert is valued in every corner of the world — be it Europe, USA or Asia. Provided you are a hard-worker, willing to learn and progress, you can achieve all your dreams and aspirations.
What areas of future development do you see for AUA?
I have noticed that AUA offers a lot of interesting study abroad opportunities to its students. However, there can also be great opportunities for collaboration with educational institutions in Asia. In particular, countries such as Singapore, China and its Hong Kong SAR, and other countries on that side of the world, might offer excellent exchange opportunities for our AUA students.