Renita Esayian: Encouraging Research & Collaboration through AUA’s Open Centers of Excellence
Renita Esayian, an accomplished financial professional, has joined the American University of Armenia (AUA) ChangeMakers, an impressive group of visionaries dedicated to inspiring and rallying future generations of Armenians to take charge of changing the country’s direction toward global success and sustained advancement.
Renita grew up near Philadelphia, where her Armenian-immigrant grandparents from both sides had settled. Though she attended various Armenian functions growing up, fondly remembering one occasion when she had the honor of dancing with the late Dr. Vartan Gregorian, it wasn’t until later on in life that she began to truly embrace and value her Armenian heritage.
After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in economics from Bryn Mawr College, she earned an MBA from Stanford University, subsequently pursuing a corporate career that took her to New York, Chicago, London, Houston, and other metropolitan cities. “Wherever I went, I found Armenians who made me feel at home,” she remarks. After retiring in 2019 and settling in Chicago, she had plans to travel the world, but those were disrupted with the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Renita recalls her first introduction to AUA in 2002, observing the immeasurable impact the Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (WEP) of AUA Open Education (previously Extension) was having on women. “WEP was the innovative brainchild of a dear friend from California who designed the curriculum, enlisted the support of the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA), and taught the pilot program at AUA. I was privileged to meet the first cohort of students and was deeply inspired by their enthusiasm and their quest for knowledge and tools. Some of those young women went on to become changemakers in Armenia,” she explains.
For Renita, “knowledge is power.” She holds that notion strongly in the forefront of her mind, as she acknowledges the significant role education has played in opening doors and creating exciting new opportunities for her. She firmly believes that students hold the key to Armenia’s future. Thus, in her support of various educational initiatives in Armenia, including her sponsorship of young orphans, she invariably encourages them to study hard in school and aspire for great heights in their educational pursuits.
Speaking about her decision to join the 200 ChangeMakers of AUA, she recounts her discussion last year with the AUA Development team about establishing scholarships for economics students, when she first learned about the campaign. “It resonated with me,” she says. “I don’t consider myself a philanthropist, but rather one small torchbearer of the heroic legacy of my dearest grandmother and her mother — both Genocide survivors.”
Drawing parallels between the impact of the AUA Open Centers of Excellence (OCEs) — powered by the AUA ChangeMakers campaign — and the activities of the Armenian Economic Association (AEA) — another organization in which she is involved — Renita says, “At AEA’s annual conferences in Yerevan, I have observed aspiring Ph.D. students from around the world interact with renowned, world-class economists with diverse expertise from leading universities and institutions. Such lively discussions significantly enhance the quality and scope of students’ research, expand their horizons, and raise the overall level of discourse and engagement in Armenia. That’s why I am pleased to support the OCEs, which offer a model to encourage research and collaboration across diverse fields to help address Armenia’s many challenges.”
Hoping to see continued progress as the OCEs ramp up their efforts to connect students with industry in leading change in Armenia, Renita comments on how she feels Armenia is a well-kept secret with so many people who are still unacquainted with the country or may think of it only in terms of the Genocide. “There is so much more to know, learn, and appreciate about our homeland, our people, their achievements, and their potential. I hope the OCEs will contribute to that process,” she says.
AUA is grateful to see Renita’s name added to its roster of distinguished professionals and indeed, philanthropists, who are committed to seeing Armenia grow into a most powerful position on the global stage.