Armenian Education, Healthcare, and Entrepreneurship Powered by Turpanjian Family

5 min read

The Turpanjian name is ubiquitously displayed throughout the American University of Armenia (AUA) campus — inscribed on plaques and walls; named daily in conversations about various colleges, academic, research, and development programs; and held in high esteem across the institution. From the Gerald and Patricia Turpanjian College of Health Sciences (CHS) and the Turpanjian Rural Development Program (TRDP) to the Turpanjian Center for Policy Analysis (TCPA), Open EducationDigiLib, and, most recently, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program, all have been made possible through the Turpanjian Family Educational Foundation. The tremendous generosity of Gerald and Patricia Turpanjian and their staunch commitment to AUA has allowed the University to lead the way in academic rigor and versatility, affording students with up-to-date knowledge and hands-on experience to directly and unequivocally contribute to the advancement of Armenia.

Paul Turpanjian, Gerald and Patricia’s son, at the CHS ribbon-cutting ceremony, 2017

Gerald Turpanjian’s parents, Hagop Turpanjian and Baidzar Pinajian, narrowly escaped the Armenian Genocide fleeing to Syria and building a new life there. Their first child, Gerald, was born in Aleppo. Years later, the family moved to Beirut, Lebanon, where Gerald attended the Armenian Evangelical Central High School in Beirut. Subsequently, they emigrated to the United States where he continued his education and graduated from the University of Southern California. His marriage to Patricia, née Savoian, produced four children who followed in their parents’ footsteps, dedicated and committed to supporting advancement through education.

As a seasoned businessman, Turpanjian founded Pacific Sales, one of the largest U.S. retailers of luxury kitchen and bathroom appliances, and served as president and CEO until its acquisition by Best Buy in 2006. Currently, he continues his business ventures as chairman and CEO of New Spark Holdings, Inc. and is actively engaged in multiple philanthropic endeavors as president of the Turpanjian Family Educational Foundation.

After Armenia declared independence in 1991, Turpanjian increasingly focused on building bridges between Armenia and the United States to promote democracy, free market economy, and entrepreneurship. The Turpanjians have long been steadfast supporters of AUA, becoming major benefactors of budding new programs and consistently committed patrons of educational development initiatives in Armenia and Artsakh. Appointed to the AUA Board of Trustees in 2006, Gerald Turpanjian currently serves as trustee emeritus. His daughter, Lori Muncherian, was appointed to the AUA Board of Trustees in 2018. Speaking on her family’s involvement with AUA, Muncherian says, “My family has always valued education and its importance for individuals and countries to improve their standards of living. AUA attracts some of the top students in Armenia and, along with its impressive faculty, prepares high-caliber graduates to become leaders in their respective fields.”

The Turpanjian College of Health Science ribbon-cutting ceremony, 2017 (pictured: Gary Turpanjian, Lori Muncherian, Paul Turpanjian)

The Turpanjian College of Health Sciences (CHS), previously the Turpanjian School of Public Health, aims to improve population health and health services in Armenia and beyond through interdisciplinary education, transformative research, and the development of health professionals. The newly-launched BSN program is the most recent addition to CHS and the first of its kind in the country and region at large. Its founding was made possible with the collaborative support of the Republic of Armenia (RA) Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport and the RA Ministry of Health. The program will help improve the overall quality of nursing in Armenia, allowing AUA to become a faculty production hub for nursing colleges, thereby filling the significant void of specializations within the field. Srbuhi Nersisyan, secretary of the Nursing Association in Armenia, expressed her enthusiasm at a recent meeting with CHS faculty. “I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the authors, implementers, and particularly the donor of the nursing program for making the BSN program a reality in Armenia. For decades, BSN had been an impossible dream for nurses in Armenia.”

CHS also houses the AUA Master of Public Health (MPH) program, which is affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in the United States and is a member of the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region (ASPHER). CHS dean Dr. Varduhi Petrosyan applauds the overall impact the Turpanjian family has made at AUA and in Armenia, adding, “The Turpanjian family has enabled the CHS to expand our mission of improving the health of the population and health services in Armenia and beyond through graduate and undergraduate education that changes the face of healthcare in Armenia, transformational research that addresses complex challenges, and community service.”

Earlier, in 1995, the Turpanjian Center for Policy Analysis (TCPA) was established by the AUA School of Political Science and International Affairs with support from the Turpanjian family. The center promotes knowledge and understanding through objective and independent research and policy analysis employing the latest research methodologies, with the long-term objective of making a direct contribution to Armenia’s transition to a democratic state.

In addition to the earlier support for CHS and TCPA, in 2006 the Turpanjians made a transformational contribution to AUA to encourage economic development in Armenia’s rural areas through the Turpanjian Rural Development Program (TRDP), which provides business training, coaching, and loan assistance to entrepreneurs in these communities. To date, TRDP has made possible the establishment of 549 businesses, created 875 jobs, and trained 1,545 people in business entrepreneurship, substantially improving the quality of life in rural communities of Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakhk. A subsequent extension of the TRDP is the Entrepreneurs in Health (EIH) program implemented by the CHS and the Open Center for Transformative Health Solutions. EIH aims to improve access to quality health services in rural communities of Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakhk. In 2012, the Turpanjians also contributed to the CHS Post-Earthquake Psychopathological Investigation, a long-term follow-up research project built on the 1990-1994 series of studies of a cohort of survivors of the 1988 Spitak earthquake. This effort has produced nine unique peer-reviewed publications in international professional journals on the long-term health effects of the earthquake.

In 2013, the Turpanjian Family Educational Foundation made another significant award of $1.5 million to expand AUA Extension (now Open Education) into rural regions of Armenia. This effort led to the launch of new satellite adult learning centers in several rural cities thereby increasing the University’s reach throughout the country and availing rural populations of the opportunity to take English language and various professional development courses. Thousands of adult learners from rural cities and towns of Armenia took part in these Turpanjian-sponsored courses acquiring skills that helped their personal and professional development, as well as career advancement.

In celebration of 30 years of achievement in higher education in Armenia, AUA recognizes the instrumental role the Turpanjian family has played in expanding the academic programs the University offers and in making a sustained impact on the country by producing the scholars, leaders, and citizens of tomorrow. Additionally, since 2008, nearly 1,000 AUA students have benefited from the Turpanjian family’s scholarship support, with an additional 1,000 scholarships administered through AUA and granted to university students all over Armenia.

Recently, at the 2021 AUA Commencement ceremony, Gerald Turpanjian was awarded the Presidential Commendation Award. Commenting on what he hopes to see in the next decade of the University and beyond, Turpanjian says, “I am optimistic that AUA will continue to realize innovative programs and persist as a regional leader in education.”

AUA is grateful for the continued benefaction of the Turpanjian Family Educational Foundation, whose support spans education, politics, healthcare, and a myriad of other areas of growth that have transformed Armenian society in various ways. Their spirited dedication to Armenia has left a lasting mark in the lives of so many and serves as an indomitable source of inspiration for us all.

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values.