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Building a Legacy: Georgetown’s MS in Biotechnology 20th Anniversary Celebration

Very few people live a life that truly constitutes a “legacy.” However, after attending Georgetown’s 20th year MS Biotechnology celebration on Saturday, April 1st 2017, “legacy” is the word that best describes the life of program director Dr. Jack G. Chirikjian.

The celebration began with a welcome reception and registration for current students, faculty, and dozens of alumni, many of whom traveled hundreds of miles to attend. In total, there were over 300 in attendance.

Joe Abdo, alumnus, event host, and one of its coordinators, kicked things off with welcoming remarks and set the tone for the day by stating, “We’re all here today for one person.”

With that welcome, Dr. Chirikjian entered the room to a resounding standing ovation.

Dr. Chirikjian, referred to by many simply as “Dr. C,” began by thanking his wife of 53 years, his children, and his grand-children. He then light-heartedly addressed the difficulty many people have with pronouncing his last name (phonetically: “CHEE-rick-jee-ANNE”), and in typical Dr. C fashion joked, “Only alums who have graduated and have a job, may call me by my first name.”

Dr. C. then presented an award to Vasna Nontanovan, associate director of the program and alumnus (’04), for her tireless work over the years operationally and administratively.

Speaker after speaker then took the podium to elucidate the impact of the MS Biotechnology program over the years, and the vision and energy Dr. C has continued to contribute since its founding 20 years ago.

Dean of Research of Georgetown University’s Medical Campus, Dr. Robert Clarke noted, “Jack Chirikjian offered a valuable program to you, and a valuable program to the world.”

Dr. Barbara Bayer, Senior Associate Dean to the Biomedical Graduate Education, remarked how even 20 years ago when the program had just 8 students, Dr. C saw the need to create “specialties” within it, a concept other programs have just recently begun to adopt. Now the program has grown to graduating around 70 students a year, and has continued to benefit from the personalization that track selection offers.

Dr. Ali Abadi (’00) recalled a story of how Dr. C helped him bring his dream of being a surgeon to fruition after immigrating to the United States from Iran. Dr. Abadi now practices foot and ankle surgery in Moorestown, New Jersey.

At the conclusion of these speakers, attendees relocated outside for a group photo on the steps of the medical school.

Next, a distinguished alumni panel delivered short speeches back in the auditorium (panel included: Matt Arnold ‘00, Ann Ostrovsky ’02, Kanishka Pothula ’08, and You-Shin Chen ’07).

Matt Arnold described his experience at Georgetown as, “both an important bridge from my previous life [as a naval officer], and a foundation for my future career.” He now works as the Vice President of Operations in Oncology at MedImmune/AstraZeneca, and is an adjunct professor for the MS Biotechnology program.

Mr. Arnold also described Dr. C as, “the greatest mentor I’ve ever had.”

Ann Ostrovsky fondly recalled how, “Dr. C spent hours training me for my PhD interviews… and he still remembers.”

Kanishka Pothula concluded his own remembrances with a touching moment of gratitude, saying to Dr. Chirikjian, “It’s an honor and a privilege to say thank you to your face.”

Event-goers then had an option to attend a 45-minute “Breakout Session” in one of four rooms dedicated to career advice in distinct specialty areas: Biotech/pharma, healthcare, finance/legal/regulatory, and research/education.

Drinks and dinner preceded the after-party at the bar Hawthorne, where many attendees opted to continue the festivities late into the night. By the end of the day, stories were shared, thanks were given, fond memories remembered.

Along the course of an average life, most people, if they’re lucky, may influence the lives of a handful of people. Dr. Jack Chirikjian’s impact spans into the hundreds; he has built a legacy that is nothing short of remarkable.

Speaking for my peers and as a current student myself, I came away from this event in awe of the magnitude of Dr. C’s effect on the life trajectory of so many individuals. That alone is something to inspire to.

And perhaps if things go according to plan, I too will return one day in gratitude for the advice and opportunity he has afforded me.

Written by Elaine Shults (MS Biotechnology 2017)