A torchbearer of support for the American University of Armenia (AUA), philanthropist Edward Avedisian has been an unwavering champion, an influencer of new developments in the process of institutional advancement since the early years of the University. His name is etched in many educational establishments and higher education initiatives in Armenia, and in the United States. The most recent among those innovative undertakings is the establishment of the first two Endowed Named Professorships at AUA, which will promote attracting top quality scholars and educators from across the world.
Edward Avedisian, was born in 1937 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian, both from Kharperd. His father had emigrated to the United States in 1909 and settled in Rhode Island working as a weaver. His mother, a Genocide survivor, emigrated in 1927, marrying his father that same year, then teaching at a local Armenian school. Together, they raised Edward and his three siblings, Paramaz, Zvart, and Paul, placing utmost importance on their education.
Avedisian attended local public schools, finishing high school as the president of his class, subsequently earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from Boston University, on scholarship. Though his family did not possess much, they had ample love and support for their children. His mother, a talented singer, was a source of encouragement, constantly reassuring him every time he picked up his brother’s clarinet and began to play. That is how his early years of developing musical skills began.
Those early attempts with the family instrument led him to a decorated professional career in music as a clarinetist with the Boston Pops for 30 years and with the Boston Ballet Orchestra for 43 seasons. Avedisian guest performed with the Armenian State Philharmonic Orchestra, the Armenian Radio and TV Orchestra, and the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia. Aside from those rich experiences, he also served as instructor, lecturer, and arts administrator, later finding new success as a private investor.
Seasoned philanthropists, Edward Avedisian and his wife Pamela have planted a bounty of seeds at AUA that have sprouted in support of the University’s ambitious initiatives. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the founding of AUA in the same year that Armenia gained independence in 1991, Avedisian found a niche to advance education in the homeland, getting directly involved with AUA shortly after its founding, and later joining the Board of Trustees in 1999.
In 1992, Avedisian sponsored the establishment of the Paul Avedisian Center for Business Research and Development (CBRD), named after one of his brothers, created to foster the economic development of Armenia in the pivotal process of transitioning to a market economy. The Center continues to engage students, faculty, and experts in researching various topics, and also serves as an information and consulting services hub.
In 1995, Avedisian funded the inception of the Zvart Avedisian Onanian Center for Health Services Research and Development (CHSR), named after his sister, as an applied research center within the AUA Turpanjian College of Health Sciences (CHS). The Center was established to specifically address the evident need for research and development in public health policy and practice. To this date, the Center partners with major global health organizations and prominent academic institutions in public health research.
Avedisian was also a major benefactor in the construction of the AUA Paramaz Avedisian Building (PAB) completed in 2008 and named after his second brother. As the principal donor of the 100,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility, he served as the Chair of the Construction Committee from 2005-2009. Today, the building accommodates multiple offices, classrooms, research centers, conference halls, student union, an amphitheater, and ancillary space for teaching and learning.
Recently, Avedisian announced his sponsorship of two Endowed Named Professorship funds in honor of two noteworthy AUA board members who have had a major influence in the development of the University: Dr. Judson King Endowed Professorship and Dr. William Frazer Endowed Professorship. Avedisian notes, “These two Endowed Named Professorships for Dr. King and Dr. Frazer were established to recognize and honor their enormous contributions over some sixty cumulative years, both as AUA Chairmen of the Board of Trustees and their sustained service on the Board as Trustees. Both honorees have also served as Provost at the University of California and the wealth of their experience, interest, expertise, vision and distinguished careers have resulted in the tremendous advancement of AUA from 1991 to the present.”
Dr. Judson King continues to be involved as a member of the AUA Board of Trustees, which he joined in 1995 and served as its Chairman. He is Provost and Senior Vice President Emeritus of the University of California (UC), as well as Professor Emeritus in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UC Berkeley. Commenting on how honored he is that Avedisian chose to name the first AUA Endowed Named Professorship in his honor, he says, “It is especially meaningful to me that it comes from Ed, who has been such a strong supporter of the University, as well as a long-time friend who came onto the AUAC Board soon after I joined as Chair twenty-seven years ago. Ed has done so much for AUA. I am pleased to be linked with him and his very meaningful efforts in this way.”
The bulk of Dr. King’s academic career had been on the UC Berkeley campus, until 1994, when he was appointed as the first Vice Provost for Research, and subsequently as Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs in 1995. He recalls his first day in that position, when “Upon arriving in the office, I reviewed my calendar for the weeks ahead with Barbara Gerber, my Executive Assistant. There was a line drawn through one entire day with four letters inserted — AUAC. I asked, ‘What’s that?’ and Barbara said, ‘That’s the American University of Armenia. As Provost, you chair the Board.’ That was the first time I had heard of AUA! From that unknowing start, I came to know and love AUA, and to end up feeling that it has surely been one of the few most meaningful and vital enterprises among the many with which I have been associated.”
Indeed, throughout the years since Dr. King joined AUA, the institution has grown in myriad ways, and he attributes some of the successes that helped its initial development to AUA’s ability to stand on firmer and more diversified financial footing. “In the early years, AUA survived and developed through the support and great generosity of one philanthropist and visionary co-founder, Louise Manoogian Simone. AUA now has a more varied base of strong financial support from a greater number of people, allowing us a greater ability to build and grow,” he comments.
Continuing to list the University achievements that he believes to be notable, he notes the leadership of four successive dedicated presidents — Dr. Mihran Agbabian, Dr. Haroutune Armenian, Dr. Bruce Boghosian, Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian, and currently, Dr. Karin Markides; the campus expansion with the addition of the PAB building funded by Ed Avedisian; the ways in which AUA came out of the global Covid-19 pandemic undiminished; and the multiple areas of research and development in which the University is immersed for the greater benefit of Armenian society. “AUA has been vital for the progress of Armenia in developing its economic and sociological bases as an independent country and for giving it useful links to the world at large. Looking ahead, I hope and expect that AUA will become all the more central to the economic and societal development of Armenia, not just as a producer of well-educated citizens, but also as a source of the research and innovation that will launch new areas of economic growth and improvement in the quality of life for all,” Dr. King concludes.
Dr. William Frazer is a current AUA board member, as well as Senior Vice President Emeritus of Academic Affairs at the University of California (UC), and Professor Emeritus in the Physics Department of UC Berkeley. As the founding Chairman of the Board of Trustees, his involvement with AUA starts from the founding of the University, when he served on the task force to establish its affiliation with UC.
From those early years of AUA, Dr. Frazer recalls, “When I was UC Provost, three faculty members paid me a visit: Mihran Agbabian, Armen Der Kiureghian, and Stepan Karamardian. They wanted to help Armenia recover from the great [Spitak] earthquake that had just occurred. They proposed to found an American-style university, privately funded, but with UC participation to ensure the quality of education, an admissions process free of corruption, a dignified student culture, etc., and so I proposed and led a visit to Armenia by a UC delegation to decide whether that vision was possible.” After the task force visited Armenia in 1990, the Regents of the UC unanimously voted in favor of the affiliation, establishing Dr. Frazer as the first Chair of the Board of Trustees. “I had the honor of presenting this resolution to the Regents, and it was the only time I ever received a round of applause!” he exclaims.
Speaking to the establishment of the newest Endowed Named Professorship in his name, Dr. Frazer says, “I feel deeply honored. Helping to found AUA is one of the two most satisfying accomplishments of my career, but more important is the value of the gift of these Endowed Named Professorships. These will be a great help to AUA’s recruitment of distinguished research scholars.” Moving forward, Dr. Frazer hopes for the University to maintain and further enhance the quality of education, and looks forward to achieving the goal of establishing a culture of research.
Together, these two Endowed Named Professorships will allow AUA to add to its roster of dynamic curricular offerings, and hire and retain qualified teaching and research professionals from all over the world. Such efforts will enable attracting top scholars throughout Armenia and beyond and allow them as well as the University to realize ambitious goals for academic and professional success, triggering and contributing to the transformation of the entire country.
As a pioneer for the betterment of Armenia, Avedisian’s direct role in AUA has led to great achievements in program expansion and research development at the University. His strategic foresight to pinpoint where the urgent needs lie, not only for AUA, but for Armenia, is what has added value to the institution and allowed the University to be a leader in facilitating progress and change that has and continues to guide the country on the road to global prosperity.
“Both Dr. King and Dr. Frazer Endowed Professorships set the beginning of the final stage for AUA’s development in becoming a research university, attracting the best international professors and students to explore the future through research. Their continuing contributions to AUA are most appreciated and we thank them as we look forward to a very bright and promising future with the establishment of the final phase of an academic university as AUA begins to offer Doctoral Programs,” Avedisian concludes.
The entire AUA community is extremely grateful for the steadfast support of the Avedisians and their magnanimous contributions to the continuous advancement of the University throughout the years.