“Even though we come from different backgrounds, experience, and education, we all share a passion for creating something.”
Erebouni Torosyan, Director of the EU TUMO Convergence Center, is describing the tightly-knit group overseeing the latest addition to the TUMO fold. The team, striking in its diverse composition, includes two repatriates from the Armenian Diaspora, two natives of Yerevan, and one non-Armenian. Meanwhile, the EU-funded project is nothing short of ambitious, encompassing a shared space of mixed-use facilities perched on top of the Hrazdan River Gorge, one of the most eye-catchingly beautiful parts of Yerevan. The center sees itself as a hub for hands-on STEM education, providing students with the skills necessary to thrive in an interconnected global marketplace while connecting those students with companies increasingly on the lookout for highly educated STEM professionals with well-rounded, adaptable skill sets.
That passion that Erebouni referenced is on full display when talking with Yevgenya Shamshyan, the project’s financial director. Yevgenya echoes Erebouni’s enthusiasm for the project and the team, expressing considerable excitement for the opportunities the center could provide young adults in Armenia. “I feel very lucky to be working on this project everyday. The scope and scale of the project really gives me an opportunity to take my skills to the next level. ”
“What was interesting is that they were able to build something like this here in Armenia. You don’t really see that very much for this age group (12-18 year olds) anywhere else in the world, really,” says Emin Sinani, describing what attracted him to TUMO (which provides tuition-free afterschool education programs to teenagers) and, by extension, the Convergence Center. Emin is tasked with setting up 42 Yerevan within the center, a Paris-based computer programming school renowned for its unique learning methods, functioning as a peer-to-peer and self-learning environment completely devoid of teachers, with students encouraged to collaborate to solve complex problems. Emin, who came from a background in industrial and interaction design, shared what initially sold him on the prospect of immersing himself in the project. “I always wanted to do something that contributes to society rather than just making a product and selling it. That gave me comfort when I came here, knowing I was doing something good for the Armenian community.”
“The country can go forward if non-profit organizations act as a sort of wingman for the government, helping them understand what the people really need,” explains Bahareh Fatemi, who came to TUMO from a background in non-profit organizations and corporate social responsibility. Bahareh is the Senior Project Manager of TUMO Labs, which provide high-quality STEM education through project-based learning activities and labs. When asked why this project resonates so deeply with her, Bahareh, who has lived and worked in the UK, California, and Iran, replied “…as someone who studied nonprofit management and leadership, I think the EU-TUMO Convergence Center will play a huge role in Armenia’s future. It will help young professionals understand and answer all of the mind-boggling research problems out there.”
Ultimately, the close-knit team has high expectations when it comes to the center. Program manager Edita Ghazaryan feels that “…the biggest value is that the community and society as a whole will benefit from having high-quality education…not just the students. That’s why we’re doing our best to make sure that it works.”
Despite different styles and character traits, the five-member Convergence Center group meshes well, functioning as one cohesive unit. “We’re very much a team. We always support each other and work closely towards this very unified vision we’re moving towards,” says Erebouni. Something that immediately stands out when speaking with each member of the group is how the Convergence Center project functions as a sort of beacon for professionals from all over the world thirsting for their next challenge, with the team’s two repatriates (Erebouni and Emin) specifically citing the Convergence Center as their reason for moving to Armenia. Bahareh, meanwhile, alludes to another kind of pull both the project and the country had in terms of influencing her decision to make the move to Armenia. “Deep down you’re connected to your roots and to this part of the world more than you are to the West. Here, just going out for a coffee and sitting down with these people… they know the struggles you’re going through. When I say I miss my country, I miss my home… they get that, they understand.”
*The EU TUMO Convergence Center for Engineering and Applied Science, funded by the European Union, is an educational and technology hub comprising TUMO’s hands-on educational programs, facilities for learning and work, shared labs, and the computer science and mathematics faculty of the French University in Armenia.