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Each year, mid-career professionals from around the world come to Cornell as part of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program, building on their skills as leaders in public service across agriculture, rural development and natural resources management.  Each Fellow in the program is paired with a Friendship Partner. 

Friendship Partners are families and individuals in the Ithaca community who graciously volunteer to support Fellows as they integrate into US cultures and experiences. Many of the local partners are Cornell University faculty and staff members. These warm and kind individuals offer their time and friendship to Fellows to help them with everything from moving into their new Ithaca-based homes to exploring the local outdoors to experiencing US holidays and celebrations. And when harder challenges in life have struck our Fellows, Friendship Partners have been some of the most generous contributors of comfort and steady support to the Fellows. Our Fellows often consider their Friendship Partners to be extensions of their own family by the end of the fellowship program. We would like to give a special thanks to Dr. Linda Gasser for organizing the Friendship Partners program over the last several years.

Allison Chatrchyan, a long standing Friendship Partner and Senior Researcher at Cornell’s Department of Global Development, was pleased to write a few words describing her rich experience as a Friendship Partner and faculty advisor to Humphrey Fellows.

Working with Fellows from the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program over the past several years has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career at Cornell, and I have forged lifelong friendships with several Fellows. At the request of former Director Peter Gregory, I started to give an annual seminar for Cornell Fellows on climate change and agriculture in 2015. These talks always stimulated great discussions, opened eyes for many to new career prospects, and provided excellent insights for me on the challenges of adapting to, and mitigating greenhouse emissions from agriculture in developing countries. 

Through these connections, several Humphrey Fellows completed their professional affiliation with me at the Cornell Climate Smart Farming program, and I made excellent connections with their colleagues working on climate change and agriculture through the United Nations. I’ll never forget the joy of spending thanksgiving at our house and Christmas Eve at our church with Sumaira. Thank goodness for Facebook - I can keep in touch with my Humphrey network with Nosheen Fazal, Sumaira Ishfaq, Ackson Mwanza, and Cyprian Kaziba! 

I’ve also increasingly had many Humphrey Fellows take the Global Climate Change Science and Policy class that I teach every fall at Cornell – this year, I had six Humphrey Fellows in the class, and it made our COP26 mock climate negotiation that much more authentic to have them representing their countries. I am currently working with my former student and Fellow, Carlos Montenegro Pinto, to form a collaboration with his UNDP projects for next year’s class.

The past three years my family and I have had the huge honor of being Humphrey Friendship Partner families to Artak Khachatryan, Tatevik Markoysan, and Dmytro Zinkevich, all of whom have become part of our extended family. My husband Tigran hails from Yerevan, Armenia, so when we heard there were fellows coming from Armenia, we were so excited to meet them. Artak and Tatevik are both incredible people — quick to learn, positive and enthusiastic  — they dug deeply into new topics and took new knowledge back to their work in Armenia – in Artak’s case, joining a UNDP climate and agriculture assessment project, and gaining funding for a new GTZ funded project on soil health in Armenia. These global connections as a friendship family have been invaluable for both of my teens (Elena a rising senior at Cornell, and Rob a rising senior at IHS) to expand their understanding of the world.

This year’s experience was something altogether different — wonderful and unthinkable — as we were the friendship family for Dima, his wife Lala, and son Yigor. With them and the world, we watched in horror as Russia invaded their home country of Ukraine. We learned from Dima the inside updates of the war on the ground; but we didn’t realize how the war would drag on and the horror would continue. Being in Ithaca this year has been a blessing for them to be safe but has also been incredibly hard to be separated and worried about family, and insane to see their world changed completely — which Dima and Lala have managed with amazing calm and strength. We’ve tried to keep life somewhat normal by sharing meals and going to concerts and hockey games.

While we will miss Dima, Lala, and Yigor immensely when they depart Ithaca soon, I know we will keep in touch. My whole family looks forward to meeting new Fellows and expanding our understanding of the world through the Humphrey Fellowship in years to come.

Allison Chatrchyan is a Senior Research Associate in the Departments of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Global Development at Cornell University, and leads the Climate Smart Farming and Climate Smart Solutions programs for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.


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