Artur Kasumyan (top right) and Artin Kasumyan (top, second from left), pictured with Yale Armenian Network: Yale University Class of 2020

BOSTON — Members of the Armenian diaspora often face questions about how they will engage with their heritage, if at all. Research has shown that a specific generation (first, second, third etc.) has a huge impact on the attitudes of diasporan Armenians and how, it at all, they engage with their heritage (ADS Pilot Project, 2018). When it comes to young adults, specifically university students, many find balancing time with Armenian and non-Armenian priorities challenging. As a recent graduate and leader of several Armenian university organizations myself, I would also add that engagement in Armenian affairs as a student is heavily influenced by the “value” of and personal gain from those experiences, and unfortunately is overlooked by many Armenian-Americans in college.

However, there are numerous examples of students dedicating their skillset and university platform to benefit Armenia — and significantly developing their own academic, professional, and interpersonal skills. Below, I will present the stories of several Armenian-Americans alumni of America’s top universities, who despite having among the most lucrative and exclusive opportunities in the world, chose to engage with the Armenian community in some form as students.

Arthur and Artin Kasumyan – Yale University 

Artin and Arthur Kasumyan are recent graduates of Yale University’s Class of 2020, both with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science. The Kasumyans are twin brothers from Los Angeles, first generation Armenian Americans, and among the cofounders of the Yale Armenian Network (YAN).

Artin recalls his experience at New Haven, Conn., being his first time in an environment without Armenians and he stated that he “[d]efinitely felt that void, and without question wanted to be involved with the Armenian community.” Thus, it was through YAN that the brothers began to engage and unite with the other students of Armenian heritage at Yale University.

During their four years there, they organized many events, including a panel discussion on Artsakh with Armenian and American diplomats and twice hosting the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) Norian Youth Connect program on campus, a weekend-long Armenian students’ educational, social and networking event. Outside of Yale, the Kasumyan brothers taught computer science workshops at TUMO during their 2019-2020 winter break and were even featured on Armenian television. They were also able to convince other (non-Armenian) Yale students to join them, and each taught more than 20 students per workshop.

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“Our students were incredible, and it was a really good experience for us…we still keep in touch with them,” Arthur said.

When asked why they chose to do Armenian activities among the many opportunities at Yale, Arthur said “I didn’t think I had to do them, or it was some kind of debt… it was just a genuine feeling that only grew stronger the more we became involved.”

Arthur also noted the important network and friendships that emerged from YAN. “I got to interact with pretty important people I never would have met otherwise, people who are so deeply and actively leading Armenian affairs.”

The twins both emphasized that being involved in Armenian activities on campus was not a huge commitment, and they were still able to do the other clubs they were interested in.

Danielle Mikaelian: Columbia University Class of 2021

Danielle Mikaelian – Columbia University

Danielle Mikaelian is a recent graduate of Columbia University’s Class of 2021, with a major in English literature. Her ancestors originally came to the Midwest during the Armenian Genocide, and she herself is from Thousand Oaks, Calif.

While at Columbia, Mikaelian was active in many Armenian organizations, such as the Armenian Society of Columbia (serving as president) and the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Manhattan Moush Chapter. She’s also a recipient of the Gold Medal from the Armenian Students Association of America and a scholarship from the Huys Foundation.

On her own initiative, Danielle created “Armenian Accepted” to provide free college application consulting services to Armenians in Armenia and the diaspora as well. Among many reasons Danielle engaged in Armenian affairs, she highlighted that “[Armenians] are a minority group, and we have to keep our culture alive…unfortunately we are still facing existential threats to our nation.”

Furthermore, Mikaelian became fully immersed in the Armenian community through coursework on Armenia and attending Armenian professional events hosted by the Armenian Bar Association and AGBU Young Professionals. Mikaelian also worked with Columbia University’s Armenian Center and helped coordinate efforts to identify hate crimes committed in Artsakh through Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Danielle proudly stated that “[b]eing involved with the Armenian community made me grow in many different ways…working together toward collective goals is extremely gratifying.”

Mikaelian said she finds that the Armenian community gives back to those who are committed to it, and for her, being involved in it as an undergraduate was a very rewarding experience.

Levon Brunson: Brown University Class of 2021

Levon Brunson – Brown University

Levon Brunson is a 2021 graduate of Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Originally from Colorado, Levon now calls Boston his home.

During his undergraduate years, Brown University did not have an active Armenian Students’ Association (ASA) chapter, and therefore Levon and other Armenians on campus decided to restart the organization. On why he decided to even get involved, Brunson stated that “It’s deeply rewarding and fun to be around people who share the same culture, food, dances, etc. … You feel understood.”

Beyond social gatherings, Brown’s ASA did have plans to partner with wider Rhode Island universities’ ASAs, which unfortunately were canceled due to the pandemic. However, that didn’t stop Levon from thinking big.

During the July 2020 Armenian–Azerbaijani clashes, Brunson, and other ASA leaders co-founded ASA United, a united coalition of Armenian American students from 60+ universities across the United States and Canada. Initially, they focused on fundraising for the Armenian Wounded Heroes Fund and fighting disinformation during those skirmishes and the 2020 Artsakh War. Furthermore, he actively participated in an Armenian dance group and was a Division I Fencer for Brown University.

Since graduating, Brunson has continued working to establish an ASA United Alumni network and mentorship program.

Through Armenian activities Brunson said, “I found something that’s my calling, which is participating and contributing to the Armenian cause.”

Currently, Levon is the founder of his own startup, Flexibly, an AI-driven personal assistant and workspace. He believes that being a leader of and participating in various Armenian organizations prepared for that role; “In terms of organizational skills, speaking, leadership and confidence, I’m really happy I participated in these sorts of things through ASA.”

Armine Kalbakian: Cornell University Class of 2020

Armine Kalbakian – Cornell University

Armine Kalbakian is a member of Cornell University’s Class of 2020 and hails from “Little Armenia” in California. Her family is from various Western Armenian diasporas (Lebanon, Syria, and Ethiopia) and Kalbakian herself is fluent in reading, writing, and speaking Western Armenian.

As an undergraduate, she double majored in anthropology and archeology, with minors in business, global health, and Near Eastern studies. Through academic interests and coursework, Kalbakian said she was “[a]lways looking for ways to study or incorporate Armenia,” whether it was writing comparative papers on ethnic communities in anthropology, Near Eastern Studies courses on the Caucasus, or archeology courses which also included Armenian history.

In addition to academia, Kalbakian was extremely active in engaging with the Cornell Armenian community, hosting informal language classes, lectures on Armenian topics, and community socials. Additionally, Kalbakian dedicated her summers to working on the Armenian cause, often in ways that intersected with her own interests. This included volunteering in Armenia and Artsakh as an AYF Youth Corps counselor teaching day camps to children and teenagers and interning at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C for their Armenia: Creating Home program at the 2018 Folklife Festival.

Her motivation and drive to be involved came, in her words, “naturally… I was raised by a very հայրենասէր [patriotic] (family) and grew up in a strong Armenian community.” In addition to personal fulfillment, Kalbakian mentioned that being a part of such a tight-knit community allows for more genuine connections and opportunities and amplifies the impact that someone can have.


As exemplified by the above personal narratives, involvement in Armenian affairs as an undergraduate provides many benefits, whether they be social, academic, or professional. It goes without saying, the relationship is two ways. In many aspects, Armenia and Artsakh also stand to benefit from the diaspora, as the diaspora acts as a bridge between Armenia and the outside world (among many roles). Whether it’s furthering research in America about underrepresented Artsakh, filling voids in academic fields not fully developed in Armenia or increasing awareness of Armenian issues to non-Armenians on campus, the support students can provide to the homeland while abroad is priceless. The war in Artsakh was devastating and exposed just how unprepared and disorganized we were as a people, both in Armenia and abroad (a topic which merits its own entire discussion). The war and subsequent events also highlighted the indifference of the world, urgency for Armenians to defend themselves, and need for the global Armenian community to be proactive and unified for future crises. In my view, being involved in Armenian affairs as a student (no matter how big or small), is a great way to contribute to the development of both a stronger, smarter, self and nation.


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