Akian Family Gifts $9 Million to Name New Science & Engineering Building at AUA
The generosity of the Akian family toward the advancement of the American University of Armenia (AUA) knows no bounds. AUA benefactors and Pillars Zaven P. and Sonia Akian have been involved with AUA for decades, pouring their time, efforts, and financial resources to ensure that the University remains at the forefront of academic excellence in Armenia and the region. From AUA’s commensurate naming of the Zaven P. and Sonia Akian College of Science & Engineering to the recent establishment of the Akian BioScience Laboratory, in that same vein, the Akians recently announced a transformational $9 million gift to name the new AUA Science & Engineering building.
“Zaven P. and Sonia Akian’s support of the University has reached far and helped numerous bright students realize their dreams of obtaining an AUA education. But their contribution goes beyond supporting students — they are investors in the future of Armenia,” expounds Vice President of Development Gaiane Khachatrian.
As part of the Build a Better Future with AUA capital campaign, the University is seeking to accelerate progress and innovation where science, technology, and engineering play a transformative role bridged with the humanities, social sciences, and arts. To accommodate the doubled enrollment projected within the next five years, the University is rapidly expanding its campus. The new Science & Engineering building, to be named the Akian Family Building, will be part of a complex of structures, including a Humanities & Social Science building and a separate Arts building. The latter two will be named the Edward & Pamela Avedisian Building and Paruyr Sevak Building, respectively, perpetuating the most recent capital gift by the Avedisian family.
All three new buildings will be connected through an atrium, named the Founders’ Atrium, which will provide a meeting space for users of all three, with separate entrances into each building. The Akian Family Building is expected to measure approximately 80,000 square feet of usable space and will include space for research and experimentation in physical sciences and biophysics, in addition to classrooms, offices, auditoriums, and other intended uses. It is anticipated that the Building will be ready for occupancy by Fall 2027.
When asked why they were inspired to name the Science & Engineering building at AUA, Zaven comments, “I had felt for a long time that AUA’s College of Science & Engineering needed physical expansion to facilitate the addition of new degree programs in other critical disciplines and state-of-the-art laboratories. I couldn’t ignore the financial need to make this a reality; I wanted to ensure that the College would be transformed into a full-fledged quality STEM educational center in our homeland for generations to come. The recent philanthropy by the Avedisian family inspired me to follow suit and complete the campus master plan.”
The magnitude and longevity of the Akian family’s support for AUA is awe-inspiring. The family patriarch, Zaven Paul Akian, was born in Beirut, Lebanon in November 1942. He received a baccalaureate degree from the International College of the American University of Beirut and emigrated to the United States in 1960 to attend the New York University School of Engineering. A year later, he transferred to Adelphi University, where he studied mathematics and physics. At Adelphi, where he was recruited to play soccer, he participated in the semi-finals of the 1963 NCAA tournament. Upon graduation in 1964, he continued his studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he enrolled in the M.S. in applied mathematics and MBA programs. During his graduate studies, he served in the U.S. Army Reserve for six years.
Zaven found success through several technology-based business ventures, some of which included partnerships with all U.S. Armed Forces agencies, NASA, and commercial and defense aerospace companies. For over 25 years, he owned and held CEO positions at Western Filter and Puroflow Corporations, hydraulic filtration systems manufacturers for the aerospace industry, both of which he sold in 2008 to Donaldson Company. He is Chairman of the Board at Integra Technologies, which he has funded since its inception in 1998 and of which he is the principal owner. A semiconductor company with research centers in California, Arizona, and Armenia, Integra employs over 30 engineers supporting the development and production of high-power radio frequency (RF) devices, pallets, and power amplifiers for avionics and air traffic control, as well as radar systems for defense and commercial applications. Through its differentiated technology in high voltage GaN, Integra has recently become the world leader in innovating and delivering RF high power solutions all around the world. In 1999, Zaven also acquired FluiDyne Fluid Power, located in Fraser, Michigan. FluiDyne, a hybrid manufacturer of hydraulic pumps and valves, which is run by Zaven’s son-in-law, Bernd, for the Akian family. In addition to various commercial and start-up ventures, Zaven has been active in commercial real estate across the U.S. through Akian Capital, LLC, a diversified investment and real estate firm.
In addition to his roster of incredible professional achievements, Zaven served six years as Trustee of the Board of Adelphi University. He currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Golden State Bank and on the Board of the Western Diocese Armenian Church Endowment Fund. For his efforts and valuable contributions across multiple organizations in Armenia and the Diaspora, he has received the Medal of St. Gregory the Illuminator (Grigor Lusavorich) by Catholicos Karekin II, the Medal of Gratitude issued by the President of Armenia, and the State of California Legislature’s resolution bestowing him the Armenian ARPA Institute for Research Eternal Flame Award.
“During my entire professional life, I have been involved in solving complex problems through science and technology. This has been incredibly rewarding and intellectually challenging. I likewise believe that the fields of STEM education will be at the forefront of technological and scientific advancements in Armenia. Indeed, STEM education is most important for the future of Armenia’s economy, as it plays a key role in its sustained growth, stability, and security while enhancing the advancement of the next generation of innovators,” Zaven says, commenting on the envisioned impact of his gift in Armenia.
In 1970, two years after they met on a double date, Zaven and Sonia were married. Sonia was born in Philadelphia in 1945 to parents Kerope and Amalia Der Avedisian. Her father was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, during which his parents, sister, and brother were killed. Soon after, he served as captain of the cavalry of Armenian freedom fighters under General Sebouh and was also a French Legionnaire. Later in life, he settled in Philadelphia, where he served the Armenian community through various organizations. He and Amalia raised their three daughters — Armena, Malena, and Sonia — with high regard for their Armenian heritage and education. Influenced by her parents, Sonia graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in English and has long been an advocate of access to education for all.
Soon after they were married, Zaven and Sonia started a family welcoming their three children: Lori, Lena, and Haig. All three are actively involved in the multiple initiatives of their family foundation. The Akians have made sure to instill philanthropic values in their children. “We strongly believe that involving our children and grandchildren in our charitable activities is pivotal to passing on our deeply held personal values. We believe in instilling in our children and grandchildren the love of giving while we help them develop a sense of personal responsibility,” they say. Lori Stephan, Lena Akian, and Haig Akian, inspired by their parents as Pillars of AUA, became AUA ChangeMakers in 2020.
For every Akian, philanthropy lies close to the heart and inspires work with many non-profit organizations in Armenia and the United States. Their support of AUA has been driven by their desire to educate the youth of Armenia with Western values that will help the country attain stability and a prosperous, democratic future. “We have been fortunate to have had access to quality education in the U.S., which allowed us to grow personally and professionally. In turn, we wanted to ensure that our homeland would also provide its students the academic space and freedom to pursue their passions and receive, in part, knowledge and skills similar to what we experienced,” Zaven and Sonia say. Zaven has also served on the AUA Board of Trustees since 2012, as well as Chair of its Finance Committee, taking part in decades-long strategic decisions that drove the University to its current position as a leading institution of higher education in Armenia.
The Akian family’s contributions to AUA include namings — the new AUA Science & Engineering Building as the Akian Family Building, and the Zaven P. and Sonia Akian College of Science & Engineering — the establishment of the Akian BioScience Laboratory, and the Akian Art Gallery. Yet perhaps what they see as the most critical, above all, is their support of the University’s scholarship program, which has been far-reaching and impactful.
To date, close to 600 deserving students have benefited from the Zaven P. & Sonia Akian Scholarship at AUA. The gift these students received has enabled them to gain access to a Western-style AUA education they would otherwise not have been able to obtain. Through the Akian family’s support, hundreds of students and alumni continue to reap success from the knowledge and resources they have gained at the University and are now thriving leaders in the workforce of Armenia.
As the family looks to a new era of academic excellence at AUA, they are hopeful that the work of the University in STEM education, integrated with the humanities and social sciences, will fuel significant progress in the country. Indeed, their gift is intended to create a powerful wave of impact that creates ripples across Armenia in terms of scientific discovery and technological advancement. AUA President Bruce Boghosian comments, “In recent years, the application of ideas from the STEM fields to the social sciences has given rise to entirely new areas of study, with names like ‘econophysics’ and ‘opinion dynamics.’ These new fields employ methods of mathematics, physics, statistics, and data science to attack fundamental problems in economics, political science, sociology, and psychology. The visionary contributions of Zaven P. and Sonia Akian and their family foundation will help position AUA as a leader in these new and exciting interdisciplinary fields. We are very grateful to them for their willingness to engage with our faculty to explore potential areas of growth and improvement, as well as for their longstanding support designed to place AUA on a trajectory to become a world-class beacon of scholarship and academic excellence.”
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 and graduate degree and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values. AUA’s Office of Development stewards the University’s philanthropic efforts exclusively for educational purposes.