ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The University of Michigan Armenian Students Cultural Association (ASCA) has historically and currently been one of the most successful organizations of its kind in the United States. With predecessors dating back to the Genocide era, during which it was affiliated with the East Coast ASA (Armenian Students Association), the current version of the group is officially affiliated with the University of Michigan and its well known Armenian Studies Department, and dates back to circa 1979.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made 2020 and 2021 a tough time to be a college student, especially those who go away to school in college towns like Ann Arbor. The vibrant, diverse life of these microcosmic cities has disappeared.
The ASCA’s major annual event is the annual Hye Hop, a dinner-dance kef attended by college students from around Michigan and the Midwest. From its glory days in the 1990s when national figures would be present, to its more humble but still highly successful recent incarnations, the Hye Hop has always served as a platform for young people to have fun and raise money for a good cause while continuing Armenian culture through music and dance. Each year, the committee donates a large portion of the proceeds to a different charity in Armenia. This year, there could be no Hye Hop due to social distancing rules. So the students came up with something else.
Playing off the name and logo of networking site LinkedIn, the group dubbed their event, held on February 13, as “ArmenIn,” and it served as a combination networking event and career panel.
Celene Philip, a club member who helped organize the special event said, “Essentially because we couldn’t do an in-person Hye Hop, we wanted to do something with Zoom and it would be a good tool to use to our advantage to get people from across the country. So we wanted to do a networking event. It wasn’t hard to plan, but we needed to find the people.”
Philip explained, the fact that it was a Zoom event rather than an in-person affair, helped the group find a range of interesting Armenian professionals from across the country to act as speakers.
“We had panels going throughout the day, and the board members asked general questions, and asked the panelists questions,” said Philip. The panels were divided by theme into “The Importance of Networking,” “Business and Entrepreneurship,” “Art and Media,” “Law and Politics,” “Engineering and Technology,” “Healthcare,” “Professional School Admissions,” and a final session on “Overcoming Obstacles.”
Many of the speakers were from the Detroit Armenian community, as well as U-M alumni who had been active in the club.
Kim Bardakian, a well-known active member of the Armenian community who is an alumni of U-M as well as of the ASCA, presented the first topic, “The Importance of Networking.” Bardakian, a New York native and California resident who works in the nonprofit sector and has focused her career in media and public relations, claimed that “Armenians are the original global network,” and that “Armenians know how to network, it’s a matter of tailoring your networking better to what you are looking for.” Bardakian discussed how to approach people and how to use your time wisely when attending large events, among other things.
The “Business/Entrepreneurship” panel featuring Carolyn Philip (UM alum), Christine Amirian, Jake DerHagopian (UM alum) and Monica Avakian, was well attended. The panelists ranged from people who had attended business school or were doing so currently. According to Philip there was “a lot of good conversation about what business means.” Panelists stressed that the point of business is not to prey on other companies or take people’s money, and focused on things like building trust with an employer.
One of the most interesting panels was “Art and Media,” featuring Jared White and Lilit Pilikian (filmmakers of “100 Years From Home”); Karine Eurdekian (founder of Kooyrigs and a Michigan native); Aris Mardirossian (an analyst for the US navy who is also the mystery man behind the Instagram account “LavashLife”); and Ani Karibian, a Michigan native who has been living in Armenia and working for various NGOs for some years now.
The “Law and Politics” panel featured more well-known faces: Michigan State Representative Mari Manoogian; director of the Armenian Assembly’s West Coast office Mihran Toumajan; community organizer, AYF/ARS/ANCA member and most recently regional organizer for the Biden campaign, Karoun Tcholakian; and lawyer Shant Sagherian; all of whom are natives of Detroit.
Sevag Nadjarian (UM alum), Ari Sagherian (UM alum), John Haytaian (proud grandfather of current UM student), and Vicken Asadourian were featured on the “Engineering and Technology” panel. Haytaian is retired from a career in aerospace and other engineering fields, where he worked on the Apollo Program’s Lunar Module and later helped Raymond Damadian develop the MRI.
Dr. John Ayanian, Dr. Roy Misirliyan, Kim Hekimian, and Anahit Movsesyan (UM alum) were featured on the “Healthcare” panel. A group of young people who have recently attended graduate school served as a “Professional School Admissions” panel: Sevan Misirliyan (UM alum), Arsen Melkonyan (UM alum), Sona Movsisyan (Michigan State alum and previous head of the Armenian club there), Lilit Kazazyan (UM alum), Rita Shehirian (current UM Med School), and John Balavitch (UM alum).
Finally, an “adopted daughter” of the Detroit Armenian community, Sona Dagley, currently pursuing a career as a motivational speaker, spoke on “Overcoming Obstacles.”
According to Celene Philip, there were 120 people registered to take part in the sessions in some form. Students attended not only from the University of Michigan but other colleges in Michigan, as well as all over the East Coast (such as Villanova, Rutgers and Tufts), and there were also high dchool seniors from the Detroit Armenian community in attendance. The event even found people zooming in from as far away as France and Lebanon.
As the Hye Hop traditionally functions to raise money for charity, the ASCA asked attendees for freewill donations. The money is going to “Hye Hopes,” an organization that aims to help displaced students from Artsakh continue their education. At press time, the committee stated that at least $700 would be donated.