Decades of dedication to her native language, history and culture led former Professor and Director of the Armenian Studies Program at California State University at Northridge (CSUN) Hermine Mahseredjian to a lifetime achievement award last Sunday from the university’s Alumni and Friends of the Armenian Studies Program (AFASP).
Over 200 alumni, faculty and students gathered at the Grand Salon on campus to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Armenian Studies Program. The evening was filled with Armenian representations, including Armenian food, Armenian music and even symbolic Armenian centerpieces, which were made with tree branches and pomegranates.
Renowned Armenian folk singer Salbi Mailian performed four famous Armenian folk songs, including “The Daughter’s Song,” “A Voice Just Rang,” a song by Sayat Nova and the unity circle dance.
Award winning author and 7 times Pulitzer Prize Nominee former Los Angeles Times Reporter Mark Arax spoke at length about his Armenian roots and heritage and the importance of having an Armenian Studies Program on campus available to the large population of Armenian students attending the university.
A 20 year veteran Reporter of the Los Angeles Times, Arax has a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University and is an award winning author. His non-fiction books include, "In My Father’s Name" and "The King of California,” which earned him the distinguished William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.
“The threat of technology could swallow you up and your culture,” said Arax. Programs like this are an example of the balance needed to honor your heritage without committing treason, he added.
Mahseredjian joined the CSUN faculty in 1983 as a volunteer just to be able to teach an Armenian language & Culture class for the Armenian students attending the university. Determined to pass her understanding and knowledge of the Armenian culture to her students, she stayed on and taught without taking a paycheck home for five years.
“The College of Humanities is proud to be the home of the Armenian Studies Program,” said Elizabeth Say, Ph.D., Dean of the Humanities Department at CSUN. “We honor a program that strives to bring an understanding of Armenian studies for the students here,” she added.
CSUN Chicano Studies Professor Jorge Garcia, Former Dean of Humanities, recalls Mahseredjian saying, “If you don’t have the money, I will teach for free.” “Because of her love, dedication and personal commitment that she has within her,” added Dr.Garcia.
Over the past 25 years, Mahseredjian has worked diligently with the CSUN administration, community leaders, philanthropists, alumni and students in her mission to expand the Armenian learning experience on campus. Her efforts have yield great results, including the establishment of an Armenian Studies Program in 1988, a Minor Degree program in 1991, a student and faculty exchange program in 2004 between CSUN and Yerevan State University in Armenia & a Cultural Immersion Program In Armenia for students.
“The Armenian Studies Program at CSUN is a very large brick in the building of the Armenian language and culture in the U.S.,” said Gabriel Injejikian, former principal of the first Armenian school in the United States, Ferrahian High School.
Mahseredjian was born and raised in Jerusalem (Palestine, under British Mandate at the time). She received her Elementary Education at the Saint Tarkmanchats Armenian School. She then went to Nicosia, Cyprus for her secondary education at the Melkonian Educational Institute. Upon immigrating to the USA, she continued her education at CSUN and obtained a Bachelors Degree in French and a Masters Degree in Educational Psychology. She continued her studies towards a doctorate program at the University of Southern California. However, she changed her educational direction and became a Licensed Marriage & Family Psychotherapist (MFT).
She holds a variety of California Credentials, including teaching, counseling, school psychologist, administrative for K-12 and for community college. Throughout her adult life she has been an educator and was employed as a teacher; counselor, Special Education Counselor, psychologist (private and public school districts), Curriculum Coordinator for Multicultural Studies at the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles, a parochial school principal and 24 years of service to CSUN as a Professor and the Founder & director of the Armenian Studies Program.
On Sunday Mahseredjian also received the coveted “Community Hero” award from the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s Generation Next and a proclamation in honor of her achievemen’s from the State Assemblyman Paul Krikorian.
“Being in Diaspora it is very important for me to learn my culture, history and language to pass it on to future generations as well as to my children,” said Ani Demirjian, CSUN Senior Majoring in Liberal Studies with a minor in Armenian Studies.
Armenian philanthropist Alex Manoogian has been an instrumental part of Mahseredjian’s success in expanding the Armenian studies program by donating over $115,000 toward the studies’ fellowship and scholarship programs. Dr. & Mrs. Varaz & Karineh Shahmirians, have also contributed by donating $25,000 & established an endowment fund with the purpose of granting Scholarships to students declaring Armenian as their Minor.
“My biggest wish is that one day we will all celebrate the inauguration of the Bachelors Degree in Armenian,” said Mahseredjian.
Last year Mahseredjian retired from teaching and directing the Armenian Studies program and passed the torch on to Prof. Vahram Shehmmassian, Ph.D., who now directs the program for over 3500 Armenian students there. Mahseredjian is currently serving as the Executive Director for the soon to be opened Ararat Charter School in the Valley and is contributing her time & expertise entirely on a volunteer basis.
“She’s getting older, but not stepping back from doing things for the community. I want to see myself in her shoes someday,” said Lusine Harutyunyan, a CSUN Junior majoring in Environmental and Occupational Health and the President of the Armenian Students Association.