In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake of 1988 in northern Armenia, the United States National Academy of Sciences dispatched a team of scientists and engineers to then Soviet Armenia to assess the effects of the earthquake and provide technical assistance. The team included two American-Armenians, Mihran Agbabian of the University of Southern California and Armen Der Kiureghian of the University of California (UC), Berkeley, both professors of earthquake engineering.
The idea of establishing an American-style university in Armenia emerged in a conversation between Der Kiureghian and Yuri Sargsyan, the Rector of the Yerevan Polytechnic Institute. Agbabian and Der Kiureghian pursued this idea in a proposal to establish the new university as a constructive response to the calamity, one that would train specialists to prevent similar disasters as well as others who would help advance the country economically and socially. Ms. Louise Manoogian Simone, the then Executive Vice President of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), responded positively and promised funding. The team also received the agreement and support of the Soviet Armenian government. Later on, Stepan Karamardian, Dean of Business at UC Riverside, joined the team. In order to receive academic and administrative guidance, the team requested assistance from UC’s President, David Gardner. After a fact-finding mission to Armenia in the summer of 1990 by a team headed by UC Provost and Executive Vice President William Frazer, the University of California agreed to assist in the establishment of the University.
The American University of Armenia (AUA) opened its doors on September 21, 1991, the same day that the Armenian Parliament declared independence, with Agbabian appointed as President, Der Kiureghian as the Dean of Engineering, and Karamardian as the Dean of Business. Soon after, a formal affiliation agreement between UC and AUA was signed. Through this affiliation, UC has provided vital academic and administrative guidance to AUA, including management of its endowment.
From the very beginning, the government of Armenia, specifically the Ministry of Higher Education and Sciences (now the Ministry of Education and Science), provided logistical and financial support for the establishment of the University. Despite the significant political and economic changes occurring in the country from 1989 to 1991, the Ministry delivered unwavering assistance. Likewise, the United States government has generously supported the University through the granting of a precedent-setting Congressional allocation of $9.58 million as an endowment for AUA, and multiple annual grants from USAID’s American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) program on a competitive basis. AGBU agreed early on to underwrite a major share of the operational funding necessary to launch the University and later established an endowment fund for AUA and encouraged its donors to support the University.
AUA also benefited from a vital working relationship with the University of California. Based on the signed affiliation between the two institutions, UC lends valuable technical support and educational experience in the growth of the American University of Armenia, collaborating in the preparation of a cadre of faculty and participating in the development of a program of exchange and cooperation. Several members of the Board of Trustees, including the Chair of the Board, are acting or retired high-level academics of UC system.
Today, the American University of Armenia (AUA) operates as an independent, private, non-profit institution of higher education in Armenia.
AUA opened as a graduate school with three Master’s programs and undergraduate programs were introduced in 2013. Today, AUA has 11 Master’s degree programs and 8 Bachelor’s degrees. The first cohort from the Master’s programs graduated in 1993 and the first cohort from the Bachelor's programs graduated in 2017. The interaction between faculty members and students is based on intellectual openness and students are encouraged to chart, critically and creatively, their individual paths of understanding and to pursue diversity in knowledge.
Parallel to its academic programs, AUA has established the Engineering Research Center, the Turpanjian Center for Policy Analysis, the Acopian Center for the Environment, the Center for Health Services Research and Development, the Center for Research in Applied Linguistics, the Center for Business Research and Development, the Legal Resource Center, and the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center in order to promote research and innovation in conjunction with its teaching programs.
As a public service to the community, AUA promotes business development in rural areas of Armenia through the Turpanjian Rural Development Program and, in support of lifelong learning, AUA Open Education offers preparatory and professional courses in Yerevan and throughout Armenia with facilities in Dilijan, Gyumri, Vanadzor, Yeghegnadzor, Goris, Kapan and Stepanakert.
By offering academic programs, research and innovation opportunities, and platforms for public engagement, AUA seeks to serve Armenia and the region to provide a positive model in the transition to a market economy and democratic governance. The University aims to prepare graduates who will play a constructive role in the social and economic development of Armenia and the region. The use of English as the language of instruction is intended to facilitate communication between graduates of AUA and their colleagues throughout the world while attracting an international faculty and student body.