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From Father to Son: Continued Commitment to AUA

5 min read

GLENDALE, California — The American University of Armenia (AUA) extends its heartfelt appreciation to the Agbabian family — a name engraved on the walls of AUA and celebrated for Dr. Mihran Agbabian, a co-founder of the University who helped establish AUA as a world-class institution of Western-style higher education in Armenia. Today, three decades later, the Agbabian family, represented by Mihran’s widow Elizabeth, sons Paul, Bryan, and Michael, along with daughters-in-law Kate and Valina, continues to uphold Mihran’s legacy and unwavering commitment to AUA. 

Recently, Paul and his wife Kate, AUA ChangeMakers, made a significant contribution to the Build a Better Future with AUA capital campaign as Developers of the University. Their contribution is instrumental in advancing AUA to greater heights, enabling the planned campus expansion that encompasses the construction of three new buildings. These structures will not only pave the way for new academic programs but are also designed to accommodate surging student enrollment. 

Dr. Mihran Agbabian and Paul Agbabian in Palm Springs, May 2017

Paul’s parents, Mihran and Elizabeth, emigrated to the United States (U.S.) from Aleppo, Syria, in pursuit of higher education. Although their families — both headed by patriarchs who were ministers — had a passing acquaintance in Aleppo, it wasn’t until they both moved to the U.S. that they began a courtship leading to marriage.

Born in 1956, Paul grew up in Los Angeles (LA) surrounded by a family of engineers, physicists, and architects. This environment significantly influenced his leisure activities, developing his penchant for building things and tinkering with cars and early electronic music devices. “I followed in my father’s career footsteps, becoming a mechanical engineer; having worked in his engineering consulting office since my early teens, I gained exposure to early engineering computing in finite element analysis as well as experimental mechanics in automotive safety,” Paul explains. 

Paul pursued higher education at the University of California, Los Angeles, obtaining a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering, followed by an M.S. from the California Institute of Technology. After graduation, he conducted post-graduate research at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, focusing on power station resistance to earthquakes and aircraft impacts. 

Paul and Kate Agbabian with daughters Sabrina and Erika at AUA’s 30th Anniversary Celebration, September 2022

Upon returning to the U.S., he established a software division in his father’s company, developing and marketing vibration analysis software for early personal computers. This entrepreneurial venture converted Fortran mainframe software into a form that could run interactively on small computers, which led him into the commercial software industry. Working at Symantec Corporation for almost 25 years, he honed his expertise in cybersecurity. Currently, he leads security technology and architecture at Splunk Inc., a leading Security Operations Center software developer.

In addition to his professional endeavors, Paul was recently appointed to the AUA Board of Trustees, bringing his expertise and unique perspective across many fields to help navigate AUA’s continued academic excellence in the next decades.

In his personal life, Paul met Kate (nee Nyberg) at an event hosted by one of the European consulates in LA. They soon married and grew their family with two daughters, Sabrina Elisabeth and Erika Miranda. Sabrina graduated with a master’s degree from Baylor College of Medicine in December 2022 and is currently a physician assistant in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Erika graduated with a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University in June 2023 and is working as a marriage and family therapist at a private practice in Los Angeles. 

Just as Paul’s parents instilled in him the importance of education and philanthropy, Paul and Kate have set a similar example for their daughters. “I watched my father and mother over many years in the development of AUA, but mostly as a bystander. I had tremendous admiration and respect for what they were doing, and when the time was right in my life, I felt the Build a Better Future With AUA campaign was a great way to start contributing personally,” he explains. 

The Build a Better Future With AUA capital campaign aims to raise funds for the construction of the University’s three new buildings: the Science and Engineering building, the Humanities and Social Sciences building, and the Arts building. This expansion will enable accelerated progress and innovation where science, technology, engineering, and data science play a transformative role as they connect to the humanities, social sciences, and the arts. 

Despite his extensive professional career in science and technology, Paul attributes much of his success to his broader interests in the arts and humanities, referring to the many elective courses he has taken and extracurricular activities — history, music, art, and architecture — he was involved in throughout engineering school. “My studies would have been far less fulfilling if the schools I attended did not offer the breadth and quality of many non-science courses. The ability to communicate clearly, both verbally and in writing, is a must for any young engineer or scientist to make their work understandable to broader audiences and visualize the impact it will have on society in general. Having full exposure to the arts and humanities is, in my opinion, the difference that benefited me, and I would want AUA students to have the same opportunities,” he expounds. 

With AUA’s commitment to expanding its transdisciplinary curriculum through the ChangeMakers campaign, AUA students are positioned to become more knowledgeable, skilled, and auspicious leaders ready to advance Armenian society. As ChangeMakers, Paul and Kate see AUA leading the way in growth efforts across various industries, positioning Armenia as a major global player. “In the West, we talk about ‘The Greatest Generation’ and what they have achieved with resilience and perseverance through the most difficult of times. The younger generations in the West have benefited from their forebears in ways they may not truly perceive due to the vast improvement in the standards of living in Europe, and the U.S. Armenia’s young generation has the opportunity to be that kind of great generation, overcoming similar existential threats, paving the way for the future, and overcoming the difficulties that post-Soviet countries face due to geo-political problems, as well as cultural shifts,” Paul says. Then adds, “This is not only an educational challenge, but with the quality of education available at AUA, and support from the Diaspora, this young generation of Armenians can have a huge impact on the economic growth and national security of the nation.”

Indeed, Paul follows in his father’s footsteps, putting in the effort and garnering the support needed to achieve the level of prosperity Armenia aspires to attain. “We feel that the new AUA buildings and the education they will help provide for future students are, in part, a tribute to my father and his vision for the new Armenia.”

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 and graduate degree and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values. AUA’s Office of Development stewards the University’s philanthropic efforts exclusively for educational purposes.