SJS Charitable Trust Names its First Scholarship Recipient

As a young student in the Lori province, Rubina Shakhkyan raised eyebrows when she expressed her desire to study computer science. Though it was not a subject women typically pursued, she continued to follow her passion and delved deeper into the sciences, naturally drawn to its theories and applications. She ultimately found a home for her intellectual curiosity at the American University of Armenia, which recently selected her as the first recipient of the SJS Charitable Trust scholarship, the inaugural supporter of the Yes, Armenian Women Can! campaign.

Launched earlier this year to support women studying computer science, engineering and information technology, the goal of the Yes, Armenian Women Can! campaign is to raise a $2.5 million endowment to provide scholarships for female students like Rubina at AUA, where 39% of students studying in these fields are women – a higher percentage than in most American universities.

“That Armenian women can is a given in my mind and in my life,” said Sandra Shahinian Leitner, who established the SJS Charitable Trust. “I hope this program meets all of its funding objectives so many more women will be able to reach their full potential.”

A rising senior, 20-year-old Rubina is set to graduate next June with a bachelor of science degree in computer science. She has already begun applying the knowledge she learned at AUA towards her part-time position as a Javascript Developer at the Yerevan-based Zone Graphics.

“I am very much motivated by the education and professors at AUA,” said Rubina. “It is the best university in Armenia, especially to study computer science.”

Coinciding with the strong academics, she appreciates the educational and friendly environment at AUA that has helped her thrive in her field, where Rubina is seen as an equal among her classmates, both male and female.

“I have a feminist nature and strongly believe in the equality of opportunities,” she said.

Through the Yes, Armenian Women Can! campaign, AUA aims to empower women and address gender biased discrimination in the country. A balanced workforce and economic productivity go hand in hand, particularly in the IT sector, the fastest growing industry in Armenia. Dubbed “Silicon Mountain,” the tech industry in the country has endless possibilities and AUA remains committed to providing aid to its students in order to achieve professional success in the sciences, and many others, upon graduation.

More than half of AUA’s 2,000 students receive scholarships through its need-blind admission policy, making high quality education accessible to every qualified student. And it is through this financial and moral support from her academic institutions that Rubina had the opportunity to study computer science.

“I have full confidence that Rubina will be a role model to girls and women who follow in her footsteps in the study of computer science, engineering, and information technology and in making a significant contribution to Armenia and to the world,” said Shahinian Leitner.

Born in Ukraine, Rubina and her family moved to northern Armenia when she was a year old, spending the first decade of her life living in Lori. When her family moved to Yerevan, she enrolled in the Ayb School, where she began studying tech more seriously.  

“My math and programming teachers at both Ayb and AUA influenced and motivated me to learn more about these subjects,” said Rubina. “They inspired me to study harder so that I can become a top specialist.”

Her family, too, was behind her, encouraging her and her sister, a mathematician who is a web developer. After graduating, Rubina plans to take a break from school in order to gain professional experience and then pursue her master’s degree.

“I would like to enlarge my knowledge to also become a software developer,” said Rubina, who speaks four languages (Russian, English, Armenian and a little German). “I always try to learn more as fast as I can.”

Although she is still a student now, Rubina sees herself giving back and maintaining ties to AUA. As a student, she participates in the university in numerous ways, including as one of the founders of the National Dance Club, an initiative she says she is “very proud of.” She is also a swimmer and plays basketball on AUA’s team.

“I don’t want to lose my connection with AUA because it gave me knowledge and also influenced my world views,” said Rubina. “I became more confident in myself at AUA and now believe anything is possible.”

“To know that young women like Rubina are benefitting from a scholarship is a gratifying outcome of my involvement with AUA,” said Shahinian Leitner. “The clarity of her intended uses of her education and vision for women in the IT industry is a credit to her professors and, no doubt, to her home environment.”

While Rubina now sees the increase of women in her class studying computer sciences as “normal,” she realizes it is due to the efforts of her university and its generous benefactors, who continuously champion female students in Armenia.

“I truly appreciate what AUA, the SJS Charitable Trust and other contributors of this campaign are doing for Armenia and for the world,” said Rubina. “I became a different person at AUA, where I was taught to reach for my goals and learned I can do anything for myself, my university and my country.”