Columbia CA/T Students Teach Creative Writing in Armenia This Summer

BY Corinne Lestch, June 8, 2018

Four Columbia MFA students will travel to Armenia this summer as part of a groundbreaking international CA/T initiative that started in fall 2017.


The project was spearheaded by nonfiction student Taleen Mardirossian, who had traveled to Armenia before and was closely following the work of the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies, which she and fiction student Theresa Lin, CA/T Teaching Site Coordinator, pitched as the site of a virtual program.


“The whole endeavor started with a conversation over dinner,” said Mardirossian. “I had traveled to Armenia three times at that point and had always been fascinated at how smart and passionate the youth in Armenia is. The thought of combining Columbia instruction and Tumo’s resources was interesting to me.”


She and Lin brought the idea to Marie Lou Papazian, a graduate of Teachers College Columbia University and CEO of Tumo.


The yearlong virtual CA/T site was a hit. Students Zoe Valery and Sarah Rosenthal were chosen to teach remotely at the site, with Lin coordinating. They selected 16 Tumo high school students to participate in the course after receiving more than 50 applications.


“These students have explored different genres and authors, they have written essays, songs and poetry, and are currently working on pieces that will be published on a digital blog, which will be launched this summer,” said Mardirossian.


Mardirossian secured funding to extend the program through the summer, and send the CA/T teachers abroad. With the support of Tumo and the Columbia University Armenian Center, she and the students will travel to Yerevan, Armenia to teach three seminars on poetry, nonfiction and fiction, as well as an intensive workshop where students will focus on editing and revising their work. They will receive airfare, accommodations and a stipend.


Alan Ziegler, Director of Pedagogy in the Writing Program, said the new program will benefit the students in Armenia as well as the Writing students.


"Since 2002, CA/T has been dedicated to serving the New York community through writing workshops. Taleen’s initiative first expanded our notion of community virtually through online sessions, and now it is literal: CA/T teachers will  be in the same rooms with their students, thousands of miles from Morningside Heights," Ziegler said. "The fact that the rooms will be in Armenia will greatly enhance the experience of the local students, and it will also be felicitous for the Columbia MFAs, who will benefit from engagement with students from another culture. In a small but significant way, projects like these enhance global understanding.”


“We’re all so excited to experience Armenia and share our love of writing with these young and talented writers,” said Mardirossian.  


Founded in May 2002, Columbia Artist/Teachers (CA/T) is a faculty of Writing Program MFA candidates. CA/T provides MFA teachers with training and teaching opportunities on and off campus, with students of all ages and levels. They collaborate with schools and various community organizations to establish no-cost arts education programs designed specifically to the needs and goals of the institutions. CA/T is advised by Professors Alan Ziegler and Dorothea Lasky. The organization is run by student directors and coordinators.