A look at the next generation of science and tech professionals advancing Armenia.

New ideas and fresh perspectives are what advance science and technology the world over, and Armenia is no exception. Fueled by a new generation of scientists, tech specialists, and entrepreneurs with a desire for meaningful real-world impact, Armenia is forging a new path towards a scientific and technological transformation that aims to see it as a global innovation leader.

This is the vision of the Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST), which has set to transform Armenia into a science-driven innovative country by 2041 through the targeted funding and support of education, research, and commercialization of science and technology.

In support of this ambitious goal, FAST’s NextGen Council, created in 2017,brings together the talent, knowledge, and skills of young and motivated science and technology professionals from all over the world and getsthem directly involved in the foundation’s transformational programs in science and tech.

One of these NextGen Council members is Shushan Sargsian, a recent PhD graduate in microbiology from New York University.Shushan received her bachelor’s degree in microbiology and immunology from the University of Miami and has completed research internships at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Yerevan Institute of Molecular Biology.

Passionate about giving back to the community, Shushan has long been involved in initiatives to empower and support students to succeed in STEM. She has mentored high school, undergraduate, and graduate students in the lab, been involved with the Women’s Intensive Leadership Development program at NYU Langone Health, and served as mentor and coordinator for the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s (AGBU) Global Leadership program in Yerevan and New York.

Shushan is currently the Director of Early Career Opportunities at Clear Direction Mentoring, a non-profit organization providing career and academic mentoring tounderprivileged and underrepresented high school students interested in STEM.

“I believe that the diversity of the NextGen Council is one of its greatest strengths. Bringing together the ideas, knowledge, and experiences of young Armenian STEM professionals living in different countries and working in different sectors will no doubt lead to more innovative solutions for the challenges that FAST is working to overcome. In my case, my many years of working with a non-profit organization in the US that focuses on mentoring high school students interested in STEM has allowed me to apply what I have learned to developing certain aspects of Generation AI. Thus, my unique experiences have allowed me to make an impact by bringing new ideas to FAST,” she says.

Shushan joined the NextGen Council in 2021, getting a unique opportunity to combine her passion for science and Armenia, and becoming part of a bond between the country and the next generation of scientists, innovators, and tech entrepreneurs.

“I have always been a proud Armenian and a dedicated scientist, but these two parts of my identity used to feel very separate. During my time as a PhD student at NYU I got involved in many initiatives working on STEM outreach and mentorship in New York City. When I learned about FAST and the NextGen Council I was very excited about the opportunity to apply my experiences to the Armenian community. In addition, I knew that becoming involved with FAST would allow me to meet and learn from Armenian scientists and other STEM professionals living in Armenia and all over the world,” she recalls.

Shushan had the chance to visit Armenia during the annual in-person gathering of the NextGen Council, whichtakes an active part in shaping FAST’s mission and advancing its programs. There she met with other aspiring leaders of science and technology from all around the world that are building interdisciplinary connections and creating a mutually beneficial ecosystem.

“While visiting Armenia last summer I had the opportunity to visit the FAST offices and meet with the team working on Generation AI, a project that I had recently become interested in becoming more involved with but wasn't sure how exactly I could help. Having a candid and fun conversation with the Generation AI team allowed us to brainstorm some really amazing initiatives that we are continuing to work on today. I felt so energized and inspired that day, and more hopeful than ever before about Armenia's future in science and technology,” says Shushan.

As part of its initiatives aimed at ensuring the long-term sustainability of Armenia's scientific and technological ecosystem, FAST is launching its Generation AI pilot program in the fall of 2023. This program will introduce AI education in high schools throughout Armenia and create a continuous talent pipeline that motivates students towards STEM and AI careers. FAST views artificial intelligence as a catalyst for Armenia’s tech transformation and a priority target for its initiatives. Shushan agrees.

“AI is a rapidly developing field and I believe that all scientific research will become more reliant on AI related technologies in coming years. If Armenia can train the next generation of young scientists to be experts in AI, then I can envision a future in which Armenia is one of the global centers for state-of-the-art AI technologies and research,” she said.

Shushanis empowering a new generation to follow in her footsteps and is playing a pivotal role in strengthening ties among Armenian and global talents in science and technology and forming new collaborationsthat are the foundation for Armenia’s future success on the global stage.