Educator Makes Local 'Armenian Connection'

The new head of L.A. City College spent three years helping steer a
university in Armenia. His new campus is highly diverse.

By Andrew Wang, Times Staff Writer

When Steve Maradian got the call that the American University of
Armenia was seeking a new vice president, he knew it would be a job
unlike any other in his more than 20 years in higher education.

The university had opened the same day that Armenia gained independence
from the Soviet Union in 1991, three years after a devastating
earthquake killed 25,000 Armenians. When Maradian was hired in late
2002, he found a country still rebuilding and still dealing with the
old socialist mentality.

"In the Soviet culture, you just didn't do anything," he said. "If
you did something, you might put yourself out of a job."

Even so, he had leaped at the chance to go for the first time to the
land of his grandparents' birth to help the school grow in the mold
of American universities.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Maradian, who has
spoken Armenian since childhood. "I mean, when do you get to go to
your motherland and make a difference?"

Now the longtime higher-education administrator will shift his
attention from Armenia to a campus in east Hollywood's Little Armenia:
Los Angeles City College.

Last month, Maradian, 54, was named president of the college, one
of nine in the Los Angeles Community College District. He takes over
from Doris Givens, the interim president of the 16,000-student campus
for the last two years.

That the college on Vermont Avenue sits in a sizable Armenian enclave
is not lost on him.

"The Armenian connection is important," he said, speaking energetically
in an accent that reveals his Massachusetts roots. "It's important
to me to keep that cultural connection - the language, the food,
the religion."

But Maradian is quick to point out that he will be the president for
all students, not just those who share his ethnic heritage.

The campus enrolls a diverse student body, including many from
immigrant families. Only about 47% of the students list English as
their family's primary language. Eleven percent speak Armenian at home,
22% Spanish and the others a variety of languages, including Korean,
Chinese, Russian, Japanese and Tagalog.

Maradian said he planned to apply to his new job the lessons learned
during tenures as president of colleges and institutes in Texas,
Georgia, Louisiana and Ohio, as well as his three-year stint in

Community colleges, he said, "are really about rebuilding communities
and people."

They play a vital role, he said, in training people to perform jobs
that sustain a community, such as nursing, and provide training for
local entrepreneurs and workers in local industry. Also, the two-year
campuses are many students' avenues for transferring to institutions
where they can earn bachelor's degrees.

"When a student comes out and succeeds, the community is the
beneficiary," Maradian said. "I know of no society that can succeed
without people with skills and talents. It's our job to facilitate

As important as day-to-day college administration, he said, will be
his external role: promoting the school and bringing in funding.

The president, he said, needs to work with the community "so they
know what we're doing and so they know where the needs are, so we
can continue to get support ... to say, 'This is what we're doing,
and this is why it's important.' "

In Armenia, where he served as the university's vice president of
government relations, he negotiated funding from American Schools and
Hospitals Abroad, an office within the U.S. Agency for International

The money was spent in part on a new wing for the campus business
center and will be used as well to renovate a Soviet-era hotel as
a residence for faculty and students. Maradian said he also headed
efforts to raise funds from various private donors.

Sylvia Scott-Hayes, president of the L.A. college district's board
of trustees, said Maradian was the most qualified of the candidates

"He displayed a very clear understanding of our student population
and their needs," she said. "There's a presence about him that the
students will be able to connect with. He's got a nice style about
him that's very open."

That Maradian is an Armenian American coming to head a college in a
neighborhood with a strong Armenian presence is an unexpected bonus,
Scott-Hayes added. "He brings a different perspective, and we were
excited about that," she said. "It kind of takes our diversity to a
different level."

Maryanne DesVignes, director of the college's learning skills
department and liaison between the Academic Senate and the
administration, said many in the faculty welcomed having a president
without the "interim" tag, especially as the college enters a period
of construction.

"These next couple of years are going to be challenging at best,"
she said.

Maradian comes to a district in the throes of a $2.2-billion
reconstruction effort, in which 455 existing buildings are to be
renovated and 44 new buildings constructed over the next 10 years.

City College was allotted $248 million for numerous campus
improvements, the renovation of eight buildings and the construction
of six buildings, including a new child-care center, a new science and
technology building, a new physical education center and a facility
that will house an athletic field and a parking structure, said Larry
Eisenberg, the district's executive director for facilities planning
and development.

City College's enrollment, a number that is important for state
funding, dropped to a little more than 16,000 last fall, down from
18,372 two years earlier and well short of the nearly 24,000 figure
of 1975.

Maradian said construction was necessary. The college, he said,
"in my judgment cannot absorb many more students without the campus
being developed." But, he added, the school must show the public that
it has done a good job in building.

Last year, school officials paved the football field to use as a
parking lot. The college has drawn accusations of mismanagement from
city officials, the local community and alumni over that action and
for leasing 4.3 acres elsewhere on campus, at $120,000 a year, for
a private golf driving range.

Maradian said he needed to study enrollment issues more before
determining a course of action. "I have to look at what's the maximum
capacity and what the campus can support," he said. "Bigger is not
always better. Quality is more important."

He also said it was too early to form specific policies on many other
campus issues, and he plans to spend his first days there getting
familiar with them.

As many community college students are, Maradian said, he and his
siblings were the first generation of his family to go to college.
Also, he's a community-college parent: One of his sons attended one
in Georgia.

As for what drives him to work in community colleges, he said the
answer was simple: He loves being an educator.

"I just felt that it was a calling," Maradian said. "There's nothing
more satisfying than seeing a student succeed."



Presidential facts

Maradian holds a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in
education from Northeastern University in Boston. He has a master's in
business administration from Wheeling Jesuit College in West Virginia
and a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts,
with focuses on higher education leadership and future studies.

~U Before working at the American University of Armenia, Maradian was
director of federal relations for the University System of Georgia;
president of Middle Georgia College; executive director of the
Regional Maritime Technology Center and the Simulation Based Design
Center at the University of New Orleans; president of Lamar State
College-Orange in Orange, Texas; and president of Belmont Technical
College in St. Clairsville, Ohio.

~U He's an avid jogger - "I am in my 15th year without missing
a single day," he said - who last year finished the Marine Corps
Marathon in Washington, D.C., in 4:48:21.

~U Maradian is a single father of two sons - Ross, 27, and Adam,
26 - both of whom live in Washington, D.C.

~U He speaks Western Armenian, a dialect spoken in parts of Turkey
and in many Armenian communities in Europe and North America.