Travel Plans

Thanks to the generosity of one “citizen of the world,” dozens of budding scholars have chased far-flung intellectual goals.

By Dana Cooke

Goekjian recieving an awardSamuel Goekjian receiving the Horizon Award in 2005, accompanied by Goekjian grant winners.

George Farag had a chance to go to Cairo and spend two months studying the Sudanese diaspora with a well-known migration-studies scholar there. It was 2001 and Farag was early in his pursuit of a Maxwell PhD. He wasn’t even sure what relationship the research would have on his future dissertation. But the Middle East was volatile and dynamic and important, and any experience there would almost certainly prove pivotal.

So he went, funded by a Goekjian Summer Research Grant — without which, he says, the trip would have been impossible.

“I had my first exposure to enthnographic study and how to really engage with people in a meaningful way on the ground,” he says. “The ideas that were planted in my mind on that trip led me to what would ultimately become my dissertation topic.” He eventually studied the Iraqi diaspora in the United States and Europe and its role in Iraq’s transition after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The trip also informed his later work as a United States diplomat, and work on a State Department report about human trafficking.

The travel grants were created in 2001 by Samuel Goekjian ’52 BA (Hist) to facilitate experiences exactly like Farag’s. He is a traveler himself, and a genuine citizen of the world. His Armenian family fled Turkey at the end of World War I and lived in Greece, Ethiopia, and Cyprus. Goekjian came to America to get a Syracuse University degree and pursue his U.S. citizenship. He then made a career as a lawyer and entrepreneur, with interests as varied as intellectual property, internet technology, and international trade. He speaks seven languages, has advised United Nations agencies on international law and finance, and served on councils and committees guiding U.S.-Egypt business, African law, and international development.

“Sam is thrilled students have an international experience, to get a feel for the global arena.”
Peg Hermann

Each summer, his fund bears 15 or so grants (typically, $1,500-$2,000) to graduate students traveling for research. Sometimes it’s research to continue a well-established project, but more often it’s research only starting to take shape. Political scientist Margaret “Peg” Hermann, who directs Maxwell’s Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs (which awards the grants), says the fund’s great virtue is allowing journeys — literally and figuratively speaking — that might not have occurred.

“It can get you an airfare to another country,” Hermann says. “It can help you hire a translator. Or it can cover basic expenses while you’re doing your work.”

Farag’s experience is typical, Hermann says. Goekjian-funded research often forms — or challenges — a student’s first notion of what his or her dissertation might be: “Will it work? Can I get the people to cooperate in the way I think they will?” As many as a quarter of students learn their idea won’t work, and that’s important progress. “A first research experience can be a little bumbling,” she admits. “But you’re getting your feet wet and gaining confidence.”

Farag meeting with Iraqui tribal elderAnother beneficiary, George Farag, meeting with a tribal elder in the Iraqi province of Najaf.

And, at the same time, you’re out in the world. “Sam loves that they go abroad,” Hermann says. “He is thrilled students have an international experience, to get a feel for the global arena.”

This year, Goekjian celebrated his 90th birthday, and marked it by committing another $250,000 to a fund already well above $1 million. Goekjian, a former member of the Maxwell Advisory Board, is also a recipient of Maxwell’s Horizon Award recognizing philanthropy and volunteer leadership.

His legacy grows every year. Nearly 250 students have received Goekjian grants. The great majority are now faculty members while others work in various fields. They tell you the same things: “The grant was the seed money which started my doctoral research,” says Kasturi Gupta ’09 MA (Soc)/’16 PhD (Soc), a program manager at Yale University’s South Asian Studies Council. “It pushed me to think, learn, and question differently.”

Esra Çuhadar ’99 MAIR/’04 PhD (IR), an associate professor at Bilkent University in Turkey, did field work in Israel and Palestine. “My dissertation would be impossible without the Goekjian scholarship support,” she says.

Alejandro Amezcua ’05 MPA/’10 PhD (PA), now a management professor at SU, used the grant to study at the Max Planck Institute for Economics in Germany — “a career changing experience that helped me network with the leading scholars in the field.”

Farag, who operates a business consulting service in the Middle East, expresses it this way: “This is the type of financial and intellectual generosity,” he says, “that positively alters the course of people’s lives.”

This article appeared in the spring 2018 print edition of Maxwell Perspective © Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail dlcooke@maxwell.syr.edu.