USC Innovate Armenia – The Retreat

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Undergraduate and graduate students from across the United States and Canada gathered in Los Angeles on two different weekends to focus on the contemporary Armenian experience and think about Armenian issues in multi-layered and thoughtful ways.

In January, there were 25 undergraduate students from 15 universities, and in February, 25 graduate students from 13 universities came to a secluded location in Hollywood, California, to explore new and out-of-the-box ways of thinking about Armenians and the Armenian nation. This program of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies is called Innovate Armenia – The Retreat.

Altogether, nearly 200 students applied to participate in the two weekends. Those who were selected were accepted based on the depth and thoughtfulness of the questions they submitted as part of their application.

Each of the two weekends was organized around three sessions, each focusing on one aspect of the contemporary Armenian world: Republic of Armenia, the post-genocide experience, and the Diaspora.

The discussions were led by thought leaders with backgrounds in political science, economics, linguistics, art, civil society, and history. They included scholar of Russian social movements Karena Avedissian; writer, actor, artist Vahe Berberian; Professor of Comparative Literature at the California State University, Long Beach, Talar Chahinian; political economist and graduate of the London School of Economics, Babken DerGrigorian; Professor of Language and Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Hagop Gulludjian; Professor of Linguistics at UCLA, Shushan Karapetian; the Chair of the Political Science Department at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, Anna Ohanyan; and Chief Innovation Officer at CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Alex Sardar. The discussion drivers worked with students to identify those areas of research that the Institute can support and that students themselves would like to take on.

Salpi Ghazarian, Director of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, said, “a university education prepares students to approach problems with reason and creativity; it is an education that prepares them to become leaders in almost any endeavor. This is what we need in the Armenian world – in Armenia and the Diaspora, and we used this opportunity to invite some of our sharpest young minds to think about Armenian issues critically and without assumptions. On the contrary, they were challenged at each step to question their assumptions.”

As a result, the students were challenged to ask questions and engage in constructive debate about expectations, identity, community roles, individual responsibility, and more. The thought leaders encouraged information-based questioning, and fostered knowledge about the real social, political, educational, economic, and emotional issues confronting Armenians in the 21st century.

The diverse group of students from the University of Iowa, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Southern California, Rutgers University, Columbia University, California Institute of the Arts, Pomona College, Carnegie Mellon, and University of California, Berkeley, and a dozen other centers of higher education, identified areas of research that they would like to pursue, regardless of their own disciplinary directions.