This year, The Center for Armenian Studies (CAS) is proud to award the Edward Hagop Noroian Scholarship to Armen Vartanian!

Armen is a senior studying biomedical engineering with plans to attend graduate school. He keeps in touch with his Armenian roots on campus through the Armenian Students Cultural Association (ASCA) and off campus through the Detroit Kopernik Tandourjian AYF chapter. He recently spent his summer as a research assistant for the Lesher-Perez research group working on microfluidic devices and their applications to understand pancreatic function. During his sophomore year he joined Michigan Rugby, where he devoted much of his time outside the classroom. After 2 years on the team, he became a team captain and looks forward to being a strong role model for his teammates this fall and spring. 

In his response to the Noroian application we learned more about Armen’s story and what makes him a great recipient of the award this year!

1) How have your academic pursuits have aligned with and demonstrate engagement in Armenian Studies?

Most Armenians growing up in northern New Jersey spend the first parts of their education at Hovnanian School. Instead of learning Armenian early both through school and at home, and being bilingual from an early age, I had to make the choice to learn Armenian. Before coming to Michigan, all my knowledge of the language came from casual household phrases and objects.

By attending Camp Haiastan every summer since I was 8 and joining the AYF after moving to Detroit, I quickly realized the necessity to pass down our language to the next generation. I sat through several lectures and conversations where my role models in the AYF would persuade me that my lack of fluency didn’t make me any less Armenian. My disagreement with that concept grew as I aged.

Before I arrived on the Michigan campus, I had already enrolled in Armenian 101, ready to gain the skills that I had always wanted to acquire. After my freshman year, having taken 102 that winter, I was thrilled by how much I learned so quickly. As an engineer with several AP credits from high school, my intellectual breadth requirement was already completed, but I still decided to take 201 because it was so important to me. The following semester I was forced to miss out on 202 for scheduling conflicts, but that was not the end of my Armenian education at Michigan. Armenian 301, Advanced Armenian Language, was being offered in the fall, a class that is only offered if there is enough interest. I spent my summer learning the content of 202 with the help of my parents and my consistent discipline to hopefully test out of 202. By the end of the summer, I received news that 301 was being postponed, but it had served as the reason to learn so much on my own.

While my language journey was on pause, I was lucky enough to expand my historical knowledge through an independent study course with Professor Ronald Suny during my junior year. I was hesitant to take the class. Being dyslexic, I realized that heavy amounts of reading was not what I was used to in the engineering school. But in the winter 23’ semester I seized the rare opportunity to take an independent study reading course with Professor Suny, and we tailored the class to lie just outside my comfort zone. Each week of the class consisted of my reading a few chapters, writing an essay, and having a fulfilling discussion with my professor. Enriching questions, discussions and debates on the history of Armenia, with a world renowned professor gave me the experience I was looking for at a University like Michigan. The skills I developed and the topics covered have allowed me to be an effective contributor to discussions about the current situation in Armenia, and were in use most recently at an AYF junior seminar.

Similar to my decision to take 201, the credit for which didn’t count towards my degree, I saw the importance an experience like this could provide in my life outside of school. Instead of passively listening to lectures through the AYF on the past, present, and future of Armenia, I had the urge to get involved with the difficult conversations that involve our country and its struggles today. Most recently as a counselor at AYF junior seminar, I had the privilege of speaking with lecturers from all over the country and even a veteran of the First Artsakh War. I’ve been able to contribute to my community in ways that wouldn’t be possible without my Armenian education at Michigan.

2) How do you plan to continue engaging in Armenian issues?

I’ve been an active member of the Armenian community through the AYF, both in Detroit and the entire Eastern Region. By attending Camp Haiastan and other AYF events I’ve found myself in positions to use my newfound knowledge. Because many of my Armenian experiences are rooted outside of the university, it is natural for me to continue my involvement beyond graduation. But with the work I have done in Armenian Studies at Michigan, I have a deeper knowledge of the history and language, which only increases both my interest and my abilities.

However, my career will also offer unique opportunities to potentially provide relief to Armenia. I’m currently a member of Michigan Neuroprosthetics, a nonprofit student-run organization that aims to provide affordable prosthetics arms for children across the world. After one of the leaders of the club located 3 patients in Syria and managed to build custom arms and ship them across the globe, I was inspired to see what I can do in Armenia. I spent time contacting organizations in Armenia to find a patient and a doctor to work with. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a patient, but what the experience did was expose me to the engineering companies in Armenia, like ArmBionics, a high-tech prosthetics company. After graduation, I hope not to only stay involved in Armenian affairs in the U.S., but to learn what my technical education can provide in Armenia. 

Having learned to read and speak Armenian and study Armenian history at U-M, I feel equipped to make a difference in my homeland and carry what I have learned to friends, colleagues, and future generations.