Mediamax continues its “50 Global Armenians” special project and presents its next hero Armen Zakarian, Professor and Chair of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering Department at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Armen Zakarian is an engineering scientist born in Yerevan in 1966. He attended Nikol Aghbalian School №19 and then continued his education in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the State Engineering University of Armenia (SEUA) (formerly Yerevan Polytechnic Institute). After receiving his undergraduate diploma in mechanical engineering, Zakarian continued his graduate education in the United States. He received Master’s degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering from University of Southern California, Los Angeles in 1993 and Ph.D. degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Iowa, Iowa City in 1997.
Since 1997, Armen Zakarian has been a faculty member in the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Since 2009 he is a professor and chair of the department.
During his time at University of Michigan Dearborn, Armen Zakarian was involved in large-scale engineering projects with various US corporations, including Ford Motor Company, General Motors and Chrysler. His research was also sponsored by the US Army and US Navy. Armen Zakarian is an author of numerous scientific publications in the areas of intelligent design and manufacturing. He supported more than dozen students from Armenia for their graduate studies at University of Michigan Dearborn who are currently pursuing successful professional careers with various major US corporations.
I was born in Yerevan in 1966 and lived there till the age of 24. My father, Vanik Zakaryan, is a mathematician and a member of National Academy of Sciences of Armenia and my mother, Rita is a chemist. I attended the Krupskaya School (presently, Nikol Aghbalian School №19 - Mediamax) that was considered one of the best at the time. After graduating from the school in 1983 I was admitted to Civil Engineering Department of the Yerevan Polytechnic Institute. Two years later I was drafted into military service and served two years in Gyumri. Then I continued my education at SEUA but changed my area of specialization to mechanical engineering.
I completed my undergraduate studies in 1990 when country was going through major transformations and engineering job prospects in Armenia were not that great. During that time the establishment of the American University of Armenia (AUA) was underway in Armenia. As part of this effort the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) was sponsoring eleven to twelve selected students to continue their master’s education in two University of California, Berkeley and University of Southern California (USC). I was one of the students selected for this program to study industrial and systems engineering at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and I left for the US in 1991.
Those were interesting years. There was no Internet back then and we knew very little, if anything, about US education system. Everything was new and different and we had to learn the language and the system on a fly. I remember upon arrival to USC we were asked to take the GRE exam within couple of days and none of us knew what the GRE exam was about. I have to emphasize the tremendous help and guidance we received from Dr. Mihran Agbabian, our guardian at USC and the first President of AUA and at the time also chair of Civil Engineering Department at USC. I stayed in Los Angeles until December of 1993. During the summer of 1992 I returned to Armenia and worked at AUA as a teaching assistant for Dr. Shmuel S. Oren, professor at UC Berkeley who was teaching operations research class at AUA to first year industrial engineering master’s students.
Photo: A. Zakarian's archive
After obtaining my Master’s Degree from USC in 1993 I had to decide about my future career path. At the time I already developed some strong interest towards engineering research and after considering all options, I decided to pursue doctoral study in industrial engineering. I submitted applications to a number of universities in 1993 and received admission to several of them. I decided to continue my education at the University of Iowa in Iowa City as Industrial Engineering department there offered me a full scholarship and I was also offered to work with one of the most renowned professors.
Beyond doubt, Iowa City was very different from Los Angeles. Iowa is a small Midwestern state located in Central United States, often referred to as "American Heartland”. Iowa City is a small university town that had cold winters and freezing rains. While studying in Iowa, in the summer of 1994 I again returned to Armenia and taught an Engineering Probability and Statistics course at AUA. In 1997, I successfully defended my doctoral thesis and shortly after received a job offer from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. I joined the university in September of 1997.
The University of Michigan is one of the most distinguished universities in the world. It boasts of one of the largest health care complexes in the world and has largest research expenditure for any university in the US. The University of Michigan-Dearborn is one of the three campuses of the University of Michigan and located in the city of Dearborn. It attracts around 9,000 students, of which 350 study at Armen Zakarian’s department.
The work at University of Michigan Dearborn marked new and very interesting stage in my career. Many of my research projects were with large companies including General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and AT&T. The fact that many of these projects were not just theoretical in nature but involved working with people and applications of algorithms for solving real world large scale engineering problems made my work even more interesting. These research activities provided me with an opportunity to bring 12-13 students from Armenia to US and fully support them for their graduated studies at University of Michigan Dearborn. Most of the students had applied mathematics background from SEUA and YSU.
Armen Zakarian with his family
Photo: A. Zakarian's archive.
The overwhelming majority of the Armenian students who worked on my research projects were highly motivated, well prepared and had very strong academic background. The best proof of their success is perhaps the fact that all of them are currently doing successful professional careers with major US corporations including Microsoft, Yahoo, Symantec, JP Morgan Chase, Netflix and Saleforce. One of the students, after five-year professional career at Microsoft went back to school full time and obtained an MBA from Columbia Business School. Another former student started his career at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), then worked at Bloomberg and currently he is a Vice President at JPMorgan Chase.
I spent my entire academic career at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. I started here as an assistant professor in 1997, promoted to associate professor in 2003 and to professor and department chair in 2009.
Unfortunately my current administrative duties occupy majority of my time and I cannot devote much time to my research and student supervision. We offer several undergraduate and graduate degree programs and over the next several years we will be hiring several new faculty members in the department who will chart the future of the department and the college.
I try to visit Armenia as often as I can. Both my wife’s and my parents and all our close relatives leave in Yerevan and my last visit to Armenia was two years ago.
Armen Zakarian with his family
Photo: A. Zakarian's archive.
Armen and his wife Marina have two sons, both born in the U.S. The older son Gary just graduated from the high school and currently a freshman in the College. The younger son Vanik is a seventh grader and goes to a middle school in Ann Arbor where the family resides.
My older son Gary started a college in September. It seems that he eliminated engineering and medicine as possible career choices. Vanik is active in sport and plays soccer and tennis.