AIWA THRIVE shares the stories of individuals from around the world who are positively impacting our community as they lead with purpose.
Interim Director of Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication (MCCAMC)
Today, we feature Svetlana Pirjan, the Interim Director of Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication (MCCAMC).
Svetlana (“Svet”) Pirjan was born in Tehran, Iran. As a Christian Armenian living in an Islamic Country, her family experienced grave injustice and discrimination, which, among other social and economic factors, made it an unsafe environment to raise a family. To open doors for his two daughters, her father decided to move her family to the United States in 1990.
Upon arrival, she and her family quickly started assimilating and adapting to their new lives, but her parents never gave up on instilling the importance of the Armenian culture in her. Although she went to a public school, she attended Armenian afterschool programs and joined organizations to keep pace with the Armenian language and culture.
With a passion for Art and Education, she attended California State University, Northridge (CSUN), through the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). While earning her Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design and Illustration, she was asked to be a peer mentor/adviser for the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication (MCCAMC). With no hesitation, she began helping other students as they started their journey at CSUN. At the same time, she started working with high school students who did not have the same support system as their peers. She discovered a new passion and learned quickly that she loves to help underserved communities and to help students achieve their academic careers. Therefore, she decided to nurture this innate, newly found passion by pursuing a master’s degree in Education Leadership Policy.
She started her career at CSUN as an Academic Advisor in the Art Department. She had the opportunity to recreate and restructure the Academic Advising Center to have a “student centered” approach. She also learned that to be a successful leader in the educational field, one must be a lifelong learner. She obtained her Doctoral Degree from Pepperdine University in Education Leadership Administration and Policy. During her time at Pepperdine, she focused her efforts in the areas of academic Probation and Female Leadership. Her dissertation was on Female Provosts in the CSU system, wherein she focused on their journey – both their successes and obstacles — and the keys to their success. Svet continues to perfect her skills and knowledge working toward a second master’s degree in Communication Studies while she is employed as the Interim Director for the MCCAM: Student Resources Center/EOP Satellite.
Question 1: What is your life philosophy?
My father gave me one of the most valuable life lessons: “When you fall, get up and move forward.” I am a strong Armenian woman who was told by her high school counselor that I would not make it into a four-year University. Whilst those words hurt, they became my primary motivation to move forward and excel. I used those discouraging words as fuel and successfully overcame any challenge that came my way as I earned my Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degrees.
Question 2: We called 2020 the year of the upheaval and awakening? What were your biggest upheavals, and what did they teach you? What was your awakening(s), and what did it teach you?
The biggest upheaval was the global pandemic and the War in Artsakh. The pandemic taught me how to quickly pivot and adapt, be a quick thinker, constantly adjust and communicate effectively in our new virtual world. At the same time, the War in Artsakh affected me emotionally because I was miles away. As a result, I became more involved with different organizations and fundraisers and do more for our community. I educated others about what is going on in Artsakh and brought awareness around the CSUN community and others. I have been empowered by how the Armenian Race comes together and unites so quickly from all over the world to help our homeland.
Question 3: What is your hope for the future?
We are currently living in a time of uncertainty. My hope is that as we slowly begin to return to “normalcy,” – or at least try our best to — we are able to look back and reflect on the hardships we have faced, and realize we are stronger and more resilient than we ever knew. More so, I hope we are able to tap into this newly discovered reservoir and be the best versions of ourselves moving forward. Most importantly, I envision a world where people will have equal access and opportunities with regard to education and career paths, and I am determined to be a pivotal role in making this a reality.
Question 4: What is your favorite thing about being Armenian?
My favorite part of being Armenian and Armenians is how close our community is regardless of how far we may be from the homeland. I know for a fact that regardless of where we are, as soon as one knows you are Armenian, they become your brother or sister. As Armenians, knowing our history and resilience, we do not victimize ourselves. Instead, we make it an opportunity to move forward and teach people around us the strong race we are.
Question 5: How has the Armenian culture shaped/influenced you?
Like most individuals who were raised in a country that is not their homeland, I oftentimes found myself with torn feelings about my self-identity. However, as I grew older, I realized there is nothing more beautiful, unique, and outstanding than being exactly what I am – an Armenian immigrant from Iran – and I began embracing my differences. Being on a campus like CSUN, and seeing the beauty of diversity and hearing others’ bicultural stories further amplified my appreciation for this melting pot we call home. I take immense pride in my Armenian culture and heritage, my life motto and my modus operandi to not only persevere, but to help those with limited opportunities and/or resources also persevere.