Conceptualizing Ideas for Change and Engaging Stakeholders in Armenia


The American University of Armenia (AUA) Open Centers of Excellence (OCEs), powered by the 200 Changemakers of AUA campaign, is well underway developing concepts; supporting projects in collaboration with AUA students, faculty, staff, and other Open Centers; and engaging different stakeholders, nationally and internationally, in both the public and private sectors, to devise new models for change to take hold within the nation. 

The Chairs of the OCEs have been hard at work in developing concrete academic support systems and directional roadmaps for collaborative projects over the upcoming academic year. Through these efforts, AUA will play a central role in the creation and implementation of new policies, providing resources for our students to lead the way in making a difference and finding solutions to challenges in Armenia today. 

Read more below to learn about some of these updates:

Open Center for Innovation Advancement

The OCE for Innovation Advancement has been working to conceptualize a common understanding of innovation that will form a transdisciplinary umbrella and strategic architecture to showcase AUA from this lense. Thus, the definitions for innovation are categorized into: outcome, process, and mindset. 

  1. Innovation as an outcome: the output typically associated with innovation is the introduction of new products and services. This includes Product, Process, Business Model, and Position Innovation. 
  2. Innovation as a process: defined as the way in which innovation is and should be organized to allow for outcomes to take place. This includes the process that nurtures discovery, development, and delivery. 
  3. Innovation as a mindset: this is supported by new ways of thinking and includes associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. 

This conceptualization introduces a transdisciplinary innovative course at AUA, which includes the participation and collaboration of other OCEs. In this project/problem-based learning course, students from multiple disciplines will come together to work on addressing an identified complex challenge, in cooperation with an identified community partner. Through hands-on, sustained inquiry, students will learn to consider and understand the challenge(s) from multiple stakeholder perspectives: first to identify assets, challenges, and opportunities and then collaboratively apply tools for evidence-based decision-making and strategic planning in a real-life setting. 

Throughout the course, students will engage in consistent reflection on their leadership and teamwork styles and their experience of individual responsibility and citizenship in the complex social world. The outcome of the course will be a proposed strategy to address the complex challenge which will be presented to the community partner organization for consideration of implementation in a reality lab setting. Thus, networking with key firms in the industry who are ready to collaborate and participate in the project development and implementation process will be of utmost importance. 

Open Center for Leadership & Governance

The OCE for Leadership & Governance is collecting and analyzing broad input from stakeholders on and off campus to determine its strategic direction and build its priorities, resources, and opportunities. This has taken the form of meetings with faculty, researchers, administrators, and students at AUA, community-based organizations (CSO), public sector representatives (embassy staff, ministry representatives), and limited private sector interactions. 

In addition, international collaboration with partner universities in Sweden, Poland, and Georgia are underway to test educational tools specifically designed for use with higher education faculty. The tools will guide faculty through recognizing barriers in the workplace and developing plans to address them. An initial testing of one tool has already been conducted, a pilot testing of a larger subset of the tools is scheduled for late May with the Acopian Center for the Environment, and a larger-scale testing of the tools with a representative subset of faculty from all academic units is planned for fall 2022. 

Open Center for Artificial Intelligence Solutions

The OCE for Artificial Intelligence Solutions, along with the Akian College of Science & Engineering, is working on operational directions for their strategic map. Currently, the focus is on developing a Ph.D. program for artificial intelligence, as well as the Ijevan CyberSecurity Hub as a function area. 

A previous project that began in 2019, the H2020 Respondrone, is being wrapped up, and a new project, Iliad, is being worked on in conjunction with the Acopian Center for the Environment. In addition, there are collaborative efforts underway with other universities in Armenia that offer cybersecurity-related education, industry umbrella groups, and target communities in this domain. 

Open Center for Transformative Health Solutions

The OCE for Transformative Health Solutions has been networking and establishing new collaborations, including meetings with diverse groups of stakeholders, both within the AUA community and outside (AUA students, administration,and faculty; National Institute of Health; Avetis Health Informatics Fellowship Program, and more). 

In addition, four Initiative Webinars have been hosted, with more underway. Two recent ones have been in collaboration with the Republic of Armenia’s National Institute of Health:

  Together with the chairs of the OCE for Innovation Advancement and OCE for Leadership and Governance, the OCE for Transformative Health Solutions has been working on developing a transdisciplinary innovative course offered at AUA with the aim of bringing together students from various backgrounds to solve complex challenges under the continuous guidance and mentorship provided by the OCE chairs and stakeholders.

Open Center for Systems Thinking

The OCE for Systems Thinking has completed an International External Review led by Barbara Sawrey of the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), providing a detailed roadmap for its development. Research has been conducted and different models are being explored to develop a systems approach toward higher education courses and curriculum development, directed toward students. With faculty development in mind, the Office of Institutional Research & Assessment (OIRA) is being targeted as a partner to shape and deliver content. 

In addition, collaboration with the Systems Management School (SMS) has provided ideas for a variety of offerings. A number of models discussed include:

  • Granting students access to SMS online systems management courses, which can be incorporated into existing AUA courses.
  • Setting up an extended multi-week faculty development workshop 
  • Setting up and developing customized systems thinking modules for AUA faculty and participants of initiative seminars and reality labs, to be facilitated in person by the chair of the OCE for Systems Thinking

A scenario raised would be to join in on the OCE for Transformative Health Solutions project to improve access to healthcare in the regions of Armenia, as an example case. The idea would be to create a systems thinking module in which key stakeholders (doctors, policy makers, village mayors, etc,) would participate. While the content would be fairly standard, the case study would be specific to a problem they are jointly dedicated to addressing.

Acopian Center for the Environment

The AUA Acopian Center for the Environment has been implementing its externally funded projects and launching new ones. The projects have been funded by the European Union (EU), Swedish International Development Agency (Sida), and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). As part of these projects, several Initiative Seminars and reality lab opportunities have been identified, including:

  1. Sevan Hackathon, funded by GIZ (already completed)
  2. Biological Waste Initiative Seminar
  3. Biological Waste Reality Lab
  4. Source Separation of Waste Reality Lab
  5. Georgia-Armenia Knowledge Sharing on Circular Economy Initiative Seminar
  6. Public-Student Hackathon on Open Satellite Data for Environmental Monitoring 
  7. Institutionalizing Information Sharing on Lake Sevan Initiative Seminar

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