Heghinar Melkom Melkomian
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Heghinar Melkom Melkomian (BAEC ’24): Pursuing a Bachelor’s as a Mid-Career Professional 

5 min read

Heghinar Melkom Melkomian (BAEC ’24) is not your typical undergraduate student. Already juggling a career at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and two young kids, she decided to apply to the American University of Armenia’s (AUA) Bachelor of Arts in English and Communications (BAEC) program in her mid-thirties. With her graduation soon approaching, we sat down with Melkom Melkomian to discuss her academic experience at AUA, how she balanced her myriad commitments with her studies, her future plans, and more.

Can you provide some background about your professional and educational journey up until this point? What motivated you to apply for a bachelor’s degree in English and communications at AUA?

I graduated from secondary school 24 years ago, back in 2000, and chose not to pursue any higher education. Instead, I entered the labor market and found a great passion in working. I decided I didn’t need higher education; I would just work my way up the ladder. I had the opportunity to work in both the private and private-public sector on amazing projects with fantastic teams, such as the renovation of Lover’s Park in Yerevan and the Wings of Tatev project. I felt like I had found my place in life, and education was not part of that, because I was comfortable. 

However, there came a point where I realized I wanted to become a professional in my field, and that’s when I decided to pursue higher education. I also wanted to do something that interested me, so I chose AUA’s BAEC program because I love to write: it was perfect in that sense, because it felt like engaging in a hobby I profoundly enjoy, while receiving tangible benefits. I chose AUA because, when I would tell people about my application to the University, they would remark that the education it offers is very demanding and challenging. I relished that. I sought a diploma, but at the same time, I wanted to obtain it the way it deserves to be obtained, to meet the expectations I had for myself. I embraced the challenge: I need a lot of stimulus, and the more I receive, the more energized I feel.

How were you able to balance your career, family, and studies?

When you have kids, people tell you that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it took a village for me to graduate. Truly, without the support of my family, friends, peers, colleagues, direct supervisor, office head, and the AUA faculty, I could not have achieved this milestone. Everybody had to step in, directly or indirectly, to allow me the time and space I needed to study, because a bachelor’s degree is not designed for working professionals. I have a 9-6 desk job, which I not only love, but is also the way I provide for my family. So, when that is your priority, but studies are also a priority, and you have children who are your top priority — you end up having so many priorities to juggle. All these individuals together granted me the flexibility I needed to work. Even my children, who were quite young when I embarked on my undergraduate studies, also understood that Mom would have to be absent sometimes, so they adjusted. It literally took a village.

How did your maturity and professional experience affect your studies in the BAEC program?

When I started my bachelor’s, I was 36 and everyone else was 18, 19. You’re older, you’re married, you have children and a career. You’re operating in a different space, and you feel like you don’t belong. It was quite difficult in the beginning; I felt out of place. Truly, though, the BAEC students were one of the main reasons I stuck around. They are thoroughly amazing, empathetic, caring…While I battled this internal turmoil, they started befriending me, to my great surprise! I forged great friendships with some of them, and they pushed me to continue my studies. Of course, you can’t overlook the differences between us, but I never would have thought I could make friends with people half my age! 

I would not have approached my studies the same way if I had enrolled in university immediately after graduating from secondary school at 16 years old. Had I pursued a bachelor’s at that time, I probably would have failed. Now, as an adult, I approach my studies intentionally; not just going through the motions of the expected “next step.” I had a greater sense of commitment, a sense of purpose, and I put a great deal of effort into my studies.  

However, one of the downfalls of being a senior student is that you can’t engage in the student community in the same way as the younger students, even though you are accepted with open arms. You have your work schedule and family commitments that come first. In that way, it feels like you are not quite getting the full university experience, the way it could — or maybe should — have been.

What motivated you to apply for a master’s degree at AUA? For which program did you apply? 

I have been admitted to the Human Rights and Social Justice (HRSJ) master’s program at AUA. I am very excited about it, because it is closely related to my current job at the United Nations, where I have come to understand that my passion is in humanitarian work. This field is where I see myself for the rest of my life. It feels like the HRSJ program has been tailor-made for me, because I want to become a professional in that field.  

Can you please share about your current role at the United Nations (UN)?

I joined the UN family back in 2014, and I currently work as the child protection associate. In this role, which I’ve held since 2017, I support the entire program. We do different types of work. It has been a very hectic last four years , as our country has faced repeated crisis situations, and we are one of the UN agencies that engages in emergency response. It is work that is deeply fulfilling, even though you sometimes do not see the results immediately. Of course, this is very common in policy-level work. Other times, though, it is immediate, and seeing the tangible results of your work gives you an unparalleled rush. With my master’s degree, I want to become a professional in the field and continue my work, whether at the UN — as local staff or international staff — or an NGO. That is where my interest and my passion lie.

What advice would you give to mid-career professionals or individuals with families looking to pursue academic studies?

It takes great effort and commitment, as well as a willingness to endure lots of challenges. You will go on a personal growth journey, as you uncover your weaknesses and strengths. Facing the weaknesses, falling down and picking yourself back up, will allow you to find your strengths. In a nutshell, it is a very fulfilling journey, but I have to also acknowledge that it has been a very long and, at times, exhausting journey. That is why I am hesitant to encourage someone to dive in right away, without considering their external lifestyle circumstances; however, if it is something that you feel called to, if you have your reasons and you have a desire to pursue these studies, then, as with everything else, you should go for it. Put everything you have into it, so that when you come out on the other side, you can look back in satisfaction. I have hope that the master’s degree will not be as exhausting, because it is specifically designed for working professionals. Regardless, I am looking forward to it.

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.