Pillars ChangeMakers
, , ,

AUA Pillars Pass the Torch of Giving: The New AUA ChangeMakers

5 min read

The Akian Family’s Strong Culture Gives Rise to a New Generation of Philanthropists

A strong family culture in a household truly contributes to building the culture of a nation. The Akian family exemplifies this as well as a commitment to education and giving back to the Armenian community. Zaven and Sonia Akian have been ardent supporters of the American University of Armenia (AUA) as Pillars, scholarship supporters, and naming benefactors of the Zaven and Sonia Akian College of Science and Engineering (CSE) at AUA. Now their three children, Lori, Lena, and Haig, have joined the exclusive group of AUA ChangeMakers championing the new generation of philanthropists.

Zaven and Sonia Akian

Zaven and Sonia Akian

“As Sonia and I became involved in assisting students in the motherland, we realized that we should take a second look at the traditional view of charity, which is typically seen as an activity for us alone,” Zaven and Sonia reflect. “We strongly believe that involving our children and grandchildren in our charitable activities is pivotal to passing on our deeply held personal values. We believe in instilling our children and grandchildren with the love of giving while helping them develop a sense of personal responsibility.”

Lori Stephan, Lena Akian, and Haig Akian are proud to follow in their parents’ footsteps and become ChangeMakers of AUA. “Our family has been proud to support AUA’s mission in delivering a high-quality education,” Lori, Lena, and Haig agree. “With the announcement of the newly launched 200 AUA ChangeMakers campaign, we all felt it would be the perfect opportunity to carry on our family’s legacy of supporting this great academic institution. We had the opportunity to visit AUA in the summer of 2017 to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Zaven and Sonia Akian College of Science and Engineering, which was named after our parents. It was an emotional moment for our family that filled us with pride and inspired us to continue our parents’ tradition of philanthropic commitment to AUA.”

“We sincerely praise the efforts of the current and past leaders of the University, not only for their dedication to academic excellence, but also for their vision and forward-thinking efforts in creating programs designed to enhance innovation, collaboration, and applied learning,” Lori Stephan continues, discussing AUA’s world-class education. “Our world is changing rapidly, and AUA’s leadership understands that new mindsets and the right mix of competence and talent are needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century. AUA students have unbelievable potential and we believe that with an AUA education, they will be well-equipped to innovate, invent, problem-solve, and lead.”

The Akians at the CSE ribbon-cutting ceremony, 2017

The Akians at the CSE ribbon-cutting ceremony, 2017

“My parents instilled in us the love for education and emphasized the opportunities that education creates for people,” Haig Akian recalls. “One of my interests is playing the piano. It was a wonderful experience to play at AUA in 2017 for the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the College of Science and Engineering. Growing up, my family was always connected with our Armenian roots and our parents helped us understand why we needed to support and give to our community. The values they have instilled in me have motivated me to join the ChangeMaker campaign and partner with AUA to provide resources for students, faculty, and staff for applied learning and problem-solving.”

Lena Akian shares her siblings’ sentiments on the value of education and the significance of giving. Having worked as a third grade teacher at two Armenian schools in Los Angeles, Lena understands the importance of preserving her Armenian heritage. “My parents have always placed a high value on education, understanding its benefits and how it’s instrumental to growth and change. They saw something special in AUA, its mission, its high-quality education modeled after the UC system with Western principles of learning. My parents have generously reached out with scholarship funds for students who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to receive such an education. I was truly moved after reading some of the thank-you letters written to my parents by AUA students, explaining how the AUA experience has genuinely changed their lives. These young, hopeful minds are extremely grateful to my parents, who have given them the gift of education and a chance to succeed.”

When reflecting on the state of Armenia, Lena notes, “Armenia has such a long and rich history, rooted in strong family values and a legacy of hard-working and driven people. We’ve faced many challenging times through the years and have learned to overcome adversity. I believe this has made us stronger as a people. We’ve come a long way, especially in this century, but there is still so much more to do to ensure growth and advancement.”

“One of the most important and critical resources of Armenia is its human capital, measured by a higher level of intelligence,” Zaven Akian asserts. “This human capital is an intangible asset with invaluable rewards that could not be listed on a company’s balance sheet. Indeed, Armenia’s resourceful human capital influences the overall productivity of the country as we produce greater economic value from a better-skilled labor force. This is where AUA, through its Western-style education and high academic standards that exemplify integrity and ethics, together with the openness of faculty/student discourse and a culture of celebrated values, has made a significant impact. AUA will lead the country to greater outputs and economic competitiveness that will further improve living standards and quality of life for individuals and communities.”

As ChangeMakers, Lori, Lena, and Haig join AUA to advance research and innovation, which will directly influence the next generation of ChangeAgents studying at AUA, who will take on essential roles in furthering Armenia into a brighter future.

The Tradition of Giving in the Nazarian Family

Nazar and Artemis Nazarian are AUA Pillars and unsparing supporters of Armenian causes. Sadly, the community lost Artemis earlier this year. Her incredible legacy lives on and her years of support have left an indelible mark on the Armenian community. The couple long championed Armenian organizations, and were proud Pillars of AUA. Their children, Seta Nazarian and Dr. Levon Nazarian and his wife Claudia, are continuing their parents’ legacy of giving and taking on active roles in their respective communities. They also have recently joined AUA as ChangeMakers. 

Seta Nazarian

Seta Nazarian

Seta Nazarian has had a successful career as a non-profit professional and worked in the fields of development and higher education. “My inspiration for giving has always been an expression of the philanthropic spirit of my parents,” Seta says. “They taught us from an early age to always give back to our community. More specifically, for me, AUA represents excellence. Not only excellence in quality education, but also excellence in a vision toward the future. I am happy to support that.”

“I think it is important to realize that before you make a change, you need to have an accurate assessment of where you are in relation to where you want to be and your ultimate goals,” Seta continues. “What are the priorities in making change? This is possibly the most difficult part of the process. True critical thinkers are up for this challenge. I am hopeful that AUA will grow the students’ skills to develop this kind of approach and to analyze before setting new goals. I am convinced that AUA students, the ChangeAgents of tomorrow, will be able to prioritize and craft their goals accordingly in a country with endless and exciting possibilities. I am hopeful that they will ultimately chart the most appropriate course to reach them.”

Claudia and Levon Nazarian

Claudia and Levon Nazarian

Dr. Levon and Claudia Nazarian are generous philanthropists. Dr. Levon is a radiologist and vice-chairman of the Department of Radiology at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. Their philanthropic support of healthcare systems in Armenia has brought critical technology to the country, including support of the AGBU-YSMU Levon and Claudia Nazarian Radiology Center which was founded in 2010, and a generous donation of ultrasound, CT, and MRI technology to Armenia. “We are inspired by the AUA ChangeMakers campaign because AUA’s international standing and strategic partnerships will allow students to reach beyond the borders of Armenia to find novel solutions to the challenges faced by the country,” Levon and Claudia conclude. “These dynamic young people will build the future of Armenia.”

We invite you to learn more about the campaign and join the group of AUA ChangeMakers today at Watch the campaign video here, and visit the pledge form to become one of the 200 AUA ChangeMakers.

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 a global education in Armenia and the region, offering high-quality graduate and undergraduate studies, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting public service and democratic values. For more information about AUA and its donor opportunities, please visit