Ara and Alice Apkarian made a $100,000 gift to create a graduate student research award in Armenian studies. Photo: UCI School of Humanities

Renowned UCI Chemist Supports Armenian Studies

Renowned UCI Chemist Supports Armenian

Ara Apkarian, Distinguished Professor of chemistry at UCI, is known in scientific circles as a groundbreaking chemist. In Orange County circles, he and his wife Alice are also known for their generosity.

The Apkarians recently funded a $100,000 endowment to support graduate student research awards in the UCI Armenian Studies Program in the School of Humanities.

Named after their daughter, the Naneh Award for Graduate Research in Armenian Studies is the second significant gift the Apkarians have bestowed on the UCI School of Humanities. The first one helped establish the Meghrouni Family Presidential Chair in Armenian Studies.

Ara Apkarian is a foreign member of the Armenian National Academy of Science and the director of the Center for Chemistry at the Space-Time Limit. Given his professional and personal interest in the sciences, what motivates his advancement of Armenian studies at UCI? “For one thing,” he says, “graduate students in the sciences invariably receive full financial support throughout their graduate careers, which allows them to focus on their studies.”
Houri Berberian joined UCI as the Meghrouni Family Presidential Chair, a position the Apkarians helped fund. Photo: Steve Zylius/UCI

Both Ara and Alice Apkarian, a retired adjunct chemistry professor at Saddleback College, relied on stipends and fellowships while they were pursuing their doctorates at Northwestern University in the ’70s.

“But graduate student support in Armenian studies? That’s a much tougher sell,” he says, laughing. “We have to do it.”

“But graduate student support in Armenian studies? That's a much tougher sell. We have to do it.”

Ara Apkarian is Armenian. His grandparents fled Turkey during the genocide of 1915 and walked the desert to safety in northern Syria, where his parents were born. He grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, which at that time was known as the “Paris of the East.”

In 1973, at age 17, he came to America to study at USC. “Education was a given in our society,” he says. “That was your only way to advance.”

Southern California has the largest Armenian diaspora in this country, a population of over a half million by some estimates. The Western Armenian culture and language is distinct from that of their home country, the Republic of Armenia.

“And that culture, because it does not have the oversight of a government, has to be perpetuated by churches, community organizations and, of course, learning centers,” he says. “We want to make sure that Western Armenian culture and language thrive.”

When, in 2015, the couple learned that UCI was launching a campaign to seed its Armenian Studies Program, they picked up the phone to say they were in. Ara Apkarian also joined the Armenian Studies Advisory Committee, which works in concert with the university to help facilitate communication and participation with the Armenian community beyond the campus.

“We both came from families who thought you should be supporting your communities and the greater community of the world,” Alice Apkarian says. “Over the years we have supported multiple passions close to our hearts.”

The couple’s latest donation is simply “an appreciation of what is valuable in life,” Ara Apkarian says. “Being the products of graduate studies, we know what it takes and what it means. It is very difficult to carry out graduate studies without financial support. The idea here is to enable graduate students to focus on their work.”

“Being the products of graduate studies, we know what it takes and what it means. It is very difficult to carry out graduate studies without financial support.”

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