The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Armenian program creator leaves

For Hermine Mahseredjian, head of the Armenian studies program at CSUN, the time has come to step away from the curriculum she created and nurtured for 23 years, though the transition could be difficult given the dedication she has given the program since its conception.

Mahseredjian founded the program in 1983. Until then, Armenian studies was virtually non-existent and not a priority of the college. She created the program because she said she felt CSUN lacked an essential component: Armenian culture and language courses for a growing population in both the San Fernando Valley and on campus.

Mahseredjian’s daughter, who attended CSUN, and eight other students formed the Armenian Student Association in 1976. The ASA recently celebrated its 30-year anniversary. During the past three decades, the ASA has created programs to support students with a minor in Armenian studies. These programs include a fellowship which gives students financial support through scholarships, the Association of Armenian Alumni, and a Memorandum of Understanding with Armenia. The latter is a cultural immersion program in which students are given the opportunity to visit Armenia. Mahseredjian has chaperoned two month-long trips to the country.

Another organization, Friends of Armenia, was established much later. It is made up of community members and professors. The goal of the organization is to gain support for the program and the ASA through fundraising. Soon, the ASA and Friends of Armenia will be combined into one organization.

Mahseredjian arrived shortly after the ASA was founded and started building the program from the ground up. At the time, there was no full-time tenure track, so she began as a lecturer, petitioning the College of Humanities for one Armenian studies class at a time.

Alex Manoogian, an Armenian philanthropist well known for establishing Armenian schools worldwide, donated $115,000 to the program over the course of four years, until he passed away in 1995. By that year, the program had started to gain momentum, but more funding was needed. A hard-working Mahseredjian used her networking and fundraising skills to raise money.

“I never asked for money in my life, and suddenly I became a beggar,” she said, smiling. She compared her tireless efforts to a famous Armenian novelist and satirist’s concept of “an honorable beggar.”

Beggar or not, Mahseredjian’s efforts paid off. She was devoted to getting the program off the ground. It started with two first-year language classes, Armenian 101 and 102, in 1983. Two years later, two more language classes, Armenian 201 and 202, were added to the curriculum.

In the mid-1990s, culture courses were added, which fleshed out the program. Among these are the Changing Roles of Armenian Women, The Armenian-American Child, and a Seminar in Armenian Culture. Today, the program offers 15 courses.

In 2001, a minor in Armenian Studies was established. As an adviser for the subject, Mahseredjian has seen many students who seek a minor in the program.

Most students are Armenian, but she says at least a few non-Armenian students attend her upper-division culture classes each semester. It is this diversity, openness and willingness to learn about one’s own culture or another culture that she said she likes to see at CSUN. Tolerance and understanding among different races, religions and cultures is one of the things Mahseredjian said she hopes her program will bring to the university.

“We have the highest enrollment worldwide of Armenian students of any four-year university,” she said.

In fact, 10 percent of CSUN’s current student population is Armenian. That is a significant amount, which is why visibility and establishing a cultural presence is necessary.

“Now there is not anyone who will say ‘What is Armenia’ or ‘What is Armenian Studies,'” Mahseredjian says.

In the 23 years she was head of the program, she said she saw most of her visions and goals realized, though she said she would like to see a major in Armenian studies established in the future.

The program has potential, but there are still obstacles.

Budget cuts over the past five years have caused a decrease in the number of classes offered each semester. Students have been unable to add classes. This delays their graduation – a problem many colleges within the university face. Dropping the Armenian Studies minor in order to graduate sooner has become common, Mahseredjian said.

With permission from the department, she taught classes independent from the regular course schedule, so students could graduate and keep their minor. This time spent teaching went unpaid, but not unrewarded.

“The award was much greater than any monetary compensation ? After all, it’s all about the students,” she said.

Mahseredjian, who is also a licensed and practicing psychotherapist, is conscious of the emotional attachment she has to the program.

However, she does not seem sad to leave; instead, she seems hopeful.

“This is my baby,” she says, motioning to her stomach and her heart. “It was hard to leave, but I am cognizant of the fact that we come and go, but continuing something is important, and this should continue to grow.”

Mahseredjian said she appreciates the ongoing support of the department of modern and classical languages, the College of Humanities and the many university organizations, such as DIG LA, a part of the Student Development ‘ International Programs here on campus, which provides students with transportation to Armenian cultural events.

She said she is confident that Vahram Shemmassian, her replacement, will pick up where she left off and develop the program even further.

“He has a good rapport with me and with the students,” she said.

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