Photo left to right: Doug Yavanian, Shirley Armbruster, Heidi Ecker, James L. Melikian, Jiselle Cardenas, Dr. Wes Wise, and Prof. Betsy Hays

James L. Melikian Popcorn Man Scholarship Winners Announced for 2023-2024 Academic Year


FRESNO — Fresno State students Jiselle Cardenas and Heidi Ecker were awarded the James L. Melikian Popcorn Man Scholarship for the 2023-2024 academic year. Cardenas is receiving a $2,500 scholarship, and Ecker is receiving a $2,000 scholarship.

Both students are juniors majoring in Media, Communications and Journalism (MCJ) with an emphasis in Advertising and Public Relations and both are team leaders for TALK, the student-run AD/PR agency course. Cardenas led the team who ran this semester’s TASTE (Take a Student to Eat) networking program that matched current MCJ students with area professionals, and Ecker is leading the team that is charged with coming up with ideas and sample materials for a campaign refresh for Yosemite National Park’s Keep Bears Wild project.

The James L. Melikian Popcorn Man Scholarship is generously funded by James L. Melikian, who graduated from the MCJ Department when it was the Journalism Department. Melikian’s studies focused on public relations and he has built a very successful business called The Popcorn Man. The company specializes in providing school districts in California and other states with healthy, nutritious items for the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program, the Child Care Program as well as the After School Snack Program.

Melikian graduated from Fresno State in 1969 with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism, and was President of the Hye Society organization. He fondly reflects on the support and guidance he received from the late journalism and public relations professor Bernard A. “Bernie” Shepard, Ph.D. and Dr. Arthur H. Margosian. (Shepard established the Public Relations program at Fresno State. He was a member of the Fresno State Department of Journalism for almost 30 years, joining the staff in 1943. He brought vision and a wide-range of experience to the department.) “My public relations aptitude and people orientation was nurtured by my education at Fresno State and my relationships with Professor Shepard and Dr. Margosian,” says Melikian. One of Melikian’s efforts has been to provide funding for three scholarships for journalism department students specializing in public relations.

At Fresno State, Jim served as the manager for the legendary Bulldog baseball coach Pete Beiden the last two years of the Coach’s tenure. Melikian was one of the donors for the “Pete Beiden Statue” that sits in the shadows of the aptly named Beiden Field. As an up and coming journalist, he wrote political articles and his column, “In the Dog House,” which was a must read in the University’s “Daily Collegian.” As President of the Hye Society, he was responsible for bringing Fresno’s celebrated Pulitzer prize-winning author, playwright and novelist William Saroyan to speak at one of the Society’s meetings. Melikian was the keynote speaker for the mass communication and journalism department’s convocation prior to the 100th commencement at Fresno State in 2011.

In 2014, he was a recipient of the Fresno State “Top Dog” award, recognizing outstanding alumni, and he has been an active supporter of both the Armenian Studies Program and the Department of Media, Communications, and Journalism at Fresno State. He is an Alumni Association Life Member and a Bulldog Foundation supporter. He was one of 13 honored by Fresno State and the Alumni Association. Honorees came from Fresno State’s various Schools and Departments. Melikian was nominated from the School of Arts and Humanities.

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“I have tried to build my life on the foundation based on faith, family, friends, fun and education. All of this has given me an entrepreneurial spirit to allow me to succeed in business,” he says. “It has been a wonderful ride.” Melikian has owned and operated his business for 46 years. As such, he has been a mainstay for advocating on behalf of healthy student nutrition at both the state and national levels. He has attended almost all of the California School Nutrition Association (CSNA) legislative conferences in Sacramento, and 33 such events in Washington, D.C., educating legislators on child nutrition and various Armenian issues.

Melikian has received the distinguished “Donald F. Flahiff Industry Appreciation Award” from the CSNA three times. In 2021, he received the Moscone Commitment to Child Nutrition Award for his long standing support of student nutrition. His “Popcorn Diplomacy” has been honored by the California State Senate and Assembly, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles City Council and the United States Congressional Record. Melikian is a member of California CSNA and the Southern California, Northern California, Central California and Mother Lode School Nutrition Associations.

Melikian and his wife, Connie, are residents of Rancho Palos Verdes and have long supported and participated in a number of organizations including the Alumni Association, Bulldog Foundation, Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Knights of Vartan, Palos Verdes Chamber of Commerce, the California Triple X Fraternity and the Town Hall of Los Angeles. They are members of the St. James Apostolic Church in Los Angeles.

The Melikians support the Ararat Eskijian Museum located in Mission Hills, California, and commissioned a mother and child bronze statue at the museum entrance commemorating the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Through his enthusiastic “Popcorn Diplomacy,” Melikian admits that he has probably given away more popcorn than he sells.  In being honored at Fresno State, it was noted that “his business truly represents the true spirit of the free enterprise system.”

The James L. Melikian family honors Melikian’s mother, Audrey Melikian, by instituting an annual scholarship with the CSNA. Born in 1919 in Fresno, Audrey was a first-generation American of Armenian parents. She was also a lifelong, active member of the St. Paul’s Armenian Apostolic Church in Fresno. The CSNA empowers and supports school nutrition professionals in advancing the accessibility, quality and integrity of school nutrition programs.

His ethnic up-bringing in Fresno has encouraged Melikian’s involvement in several groups including serving on the Board of the Southern Region of the Armenian Assembly of America, and he is a Godfather of the Armenia Apostolic Cathedral of the Western Diocese. Since 1972, the Armenian Assembly promotes public awareness of Armenian issues, encourages Armenian-American participation in the American democratic process, and assists in humanitarian and development programs in Armenia and Artsakh, while strengthening the U.S.-Armenia and U.S.-Artsakh relationships. Melikian and his wife have endowed a summer internship for college students through the Armenian Assembly.

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