Shushanna Arakelyan, 2021 Aspire alumna, from Yerevan, Armenia, represents how perseverance can lead to many opportunities that jointly build a successful outcome. She enjoys putting each experience in life together like a puzzle.
Arakelyan feels grateful as a first-generation college student embracing educational and leadership programs. Her parents were university age when Armenia was fighting for independence so neither of them attended school; but, education was highly valued in her house.
“My parents did everything in their power to support us and provide for us so that we could study,” she explained.
Arakelyan came across the Aspire Leaders Program in 2017 while she was in her second year of undergraduate studies at the American University of Armenia.
“One of my closest friends had been accepted that year, and she told [me] everything about the program – that’s how I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Arakelyan said.
Although she applied unsuccessfully in 2017, only went through some courses in 2018, and experienced the program on pause in 2019, she successfully went through each stage of the program and became an alumna in 2021.
“Even though it didn’t happen the first, second, or third time, if it is right for you and you work hard for it, your chance will come,” she expressed.
A 2019 USAID situational analysis found that the youth are critical of the quality of education in Armenia, particularly the curricula and teaching methods that are too theoretical and insufficient in developing transversal skills. Therefore, students turn to non-formal learning opportunities to fill this gap.
Through the faculty seminars, online courses, and peer discussions, she learned about new topics outside her scope.
“When you are constantly exposed to developments and discussions in fields that spark interest, you start connecting points back to your current profession,” she said. “Aspire gives you the chance to go further in your specialty [and] the chance to have a wider world view.”
This dedication to self-improvement and growth is one of the many attributes that liken Arakelyan to her Aspire peers – as well as a commitment to community impact.
Working at a professional asset management company in Armenia, she focuses on educating the Armenian population about the importance of personal finance and pension systems.
Arakelyan hopes to get her Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certificate this year and eventually apply for a master’s to continue researching and learning.
Her interest in leadership has blossomed since high school. When she was 17, she took part in The Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) and did a homestay in the United States.
“This was a life changing experience for me and it showed me the difference in the educational system,” she said.
After this experience, she spent several years facilitating a club at her school to teach English to local Armenian students, and engage with them over topics like human rights and equality.
“I always focus on the social side of things and want to make any contribution, even small, for people on my street, in my town, and in my country,” Arakelyan said.
When she isn’t working or giving back to her community, Arakelyan hosts a book club with friends, enjoys photography and film, hiking, embroidery, and spending time with family.
Arakelyan feels taking advantage of opportunities and having an open-mind leads to success.
“I advise future Aspire leaders and other students to be open to many opportunities,” she said. “Every opportunity has something valuable to offer; in fact, life for me is like a puzzle. You collect pieces as you go and those pieces you collected fit together in an unpredictable way.”