Karl S. Pister
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Honoring the Life of AUA Trustee Dr. Karl S. Pister

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YEREVAN, Armenia — The American University of Armenia (AUA) is deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Karl S. Pister, AUA trustee emeritus and founding member, who passed away on May 14, at the age of 96. A kind, dedicated, and devout educator, he was an ardent AUA trustee for 27 years. He has also served as University of California (UC) Santa Cruz chancellor and UC Berkeley dean of Engineering. Dr. Pister’s important contributions and graciousness will be remembered by his students, colleagues, friends, and family.

A proponent of education, Dr. Pister devoted most of his life to higher education. Starting as a structural engineering professor and dean of engineering at UC Berkeley, he rose to the position of UC Santa Cruz chancellor and UC vice president. His strong collaboration skills led him to forge creative partnerships between educational institutions, government, industry, and communities for the advancement of education at all levels. 

Dr. Pister at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.

Dr. Pister at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.

Dr. Karl Pister was a colleague of AUA President Emeritus Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian at UC Berkeley. He became dean of the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley in 1980. While dean, he would often have lunch in the Carlson room with his old colleagues, and it was during one of those lunches in 1989 that Dr. Der Kiureghian had shared with Dr. Pister the proposal about establishing an American-style university in Armenia, which would later become AUA. In July 1990, Dr. Pister was among the 11-member UC delegation that visited Armenia. A devout catholic, he was sympathetic toward Armenians, the first Christian nation. He was fascinated by the quality of choral singing in Hripsime church and Etchmiadzin, Dr. Kiureghian recalls.

I knew Karl starting in 1978 as a colleague in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at UC Berkeley. He was one of the very first people I talked to about our proposal to establish the AUA. He was intrigued and supportive, but saw it as a long shot. Later, when UC Vice President for Academic Affairs William Frazer was forming a UC team to visit Armenia to explore the possibility of establishing an American University, I suggested his name and Dr. Frazer immediately agreed and invited him to join. Karl turned out to be one of the most influential founding trustees of AUAC serving for more than 27 years, including several years as the board treasurer during some of the most difficult financial years of the University. He brought many innovative ideas to the board meetings that were adopted and helped advance the University. During my own presidency, he was highly supportive and I benefited enormously from his council. It was truly a privilege to know Karl as a colleague both at UC and at AUA,” Dr. Der Kiureghian noted.

Signing of the affiliation agreement with University of California

Dr. Pister at the signing of AUA’s affiliation agreement with the University of California. L to R (standing): Stepan Karamardian, Lyman Porter, William Frazer, Armen Der Kiureghian, Karl Pister, Theony Condos, and Jan Behrsin. L to R (seated): David Gardner and Mihran Agbabian.

Dr. Pister was among the academics who signed the affiliation agreement between AUA and UC. Being a true leader and aiming to strengthen education everywhere, he believed that by exporting know-how and education to the world, the University of California ought to support countries worldwide in their educational efforts thereby helping them raise their standards of living.

Reflecting on Dr. Pister’s great contribution to AUA’s establishment, Dr. Lawrence H. Pitts, chair of the AUA Board of Trustees, remarked, AUA well might not exist without Karl Pister’s efforts. In the aftermath of the 1988 Armenian earthquake, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and emergence of the new country in 1991, Karl, and several other key founders, perceived the need for a new university in Armenia with an English curriculum and Western standards. They envisioned that AUA could be a transformational leader among the universities in Armenia, providing the country with students and future leaders whose educations were founded on merit, transparency and academic freedom.”

Thus Dr. Pister stands at the core of AUA’s establishment. He is among the individuals who played a decisive role in the founding of the University. His picture can be seen on the “Founders’ Wall” at the AUA Paramaz Avedisian building (PAB). Having served on the AUA Board of Trustees for a long time, he did much for the future of higher education in Armenia, and leaves behind a legacy that will always be remembered.

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values.