By Sissi De Flaviis

Learning Through Sharing

Alumni Mentor, Vicken Koundakjian and recent alumna and mentee, Aidan Russell share their mentorship story

No academic journey is the same, and no student’s path to success is linear. However, there are support systems along the way that help each person find their pathway to prosperity. That is something Alumni Mentor Vicken Koundakjian and his mentee, Aidan Russell, understand very well.

Koundakjian and his protégée, as he likes to call her, each joined the Alumni Mentors program at different stages in their life. However, they both enrolled for the same reason: to learn.

“Learning, that’s what sharing information is all about. My job (as a mentor) is to share what I’ve discovered over time. I share my experience, I share my knowledge, and we have conversations,” says Koundakjian, who mentored Russell for two years.

He also emphasizes that mentorship is a two-way street as he learns from his protégé, too.

“It also gives me the opportunity to learn from people who are much younger because they have different experiences. It’s very gratifying,” Koundakjian shares.

In the past year, Koundakjian has mentored four people between Carleton’s Alumni Mentors program, the Canadian International Council, and his office.

Mentorship is personal,” says Russell. “Vicken genuinely wants me to learn and wants what is best for me. As a mentee, having someone in my field that is genuinely looking out for me is really nice.”

Russell and Koundakjian have a shared passion for International Affairs and both worked at Global Affairs Canada during their pairing. Russell had recently started working as a Junior Policy Officer and has since moved to the Human Rights and Indigenous Affairs Policy department.

Koundakjian, who has 30 years of service in Canadian diplomacy, is a Deputy Director. His past diplomatic postings included Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, and Nigeria, which are considered among the most harrowing missions in the Canadian diplomatic service.

Road to mentorship

After graduating from Carleton in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts Honours in History (his second degree), Koundakjian connected with a Carleton history professor during his posting in Venezuela.

“We talked periodically, and over time we decided we wanted to do something for refugee kids who come to Canada,” says Koundakjian.

He carefully considered the idea for a few years before he and his wife, Paula, established the Welcome to Canada bursary, which gives teenage refugees a chance to attend post-secondary education. While he worked on the bursary, Koundakjian met Jennifer Gray, the Alumni Relations Program Officer, who encouraged him to join the Alumni Mentors program.

Koundakjian’s mentee, Russell, first heard about the program through her job at the Treasury Board of Canada.

“My Deputy Director, who is a Carleton alumnus, recommended I join the mentorship program,” says Russell. At the time, she was in her first year of a Master’s degree at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs (NIPSIA), in which she was specializing in Diplomacy and Foreign Policy.

“I hate the cookie-cutter aspect – as annoying as that sounds – of networking for job opportunities, and I was concerned the program would be like that,” she admits.

But to Russell’s relief, this pairing would become more than a networking opportunity.

“On the first meeting, Vicken said: ‘I’m not going to be giving you a job; that’s not what this is about,’” she recalls while laughing at the irony of her initial thoughts and his comment.

Russell valued the open conversations she shared with Koundakjian. She says she felt comfortable asking questions about career choices, negotiating salary compensations, and practicing tangible skills like writing briefing notes and memorandums for work.

“The biggest lesson that he taught me is that nobody will look out for your career except for you, so you have to be straightforward and confident,” says Russell. “Looking at his career, if I can get a fraction of what he has done, I’ll know I’ve learned something.

Monday, September 27, 2021 in
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