Paly grad to discuss Armenian Internet project

The 'Hidden Road Initiative' is subject of talk at Stanford's Bechtel International Center

A Palo Alto High School graduate has helped to build a "virtual road" -- the Internet -- into Aghbradzor, Armenia, a mountain village whose roads to the rest of the world are cut off by severe weather for six months a year.

Nanor Balabanian, now a fourth-year political science major at the University of California at Santa Barbara will discuss the Hidden Road Initiative in a presentation at Stanford University's Bechtel International Center Friday (Nov. 11).

Balabanian's project was funded by the Strauss Foundation as well as a donation from Paly English and journalism teacher Esther Wojcicki, who Balabanian said was one of several teachers who inspired her when she and her family moved to Palo Alto from Lebanon her sophomore year. Her father is pastor of the Calvary Armenian Congregational Church in San Francisco.

Coming to Paly was a bit of a culture shock after being raised in a "sheltered" Armenian village in Lebanon, she said.

"But Paly is very open to accepting diversity and technology as part of the school, and opened my eyes to so many things," she said.

Balabanian first visited Aghbradzor in 2009, with help from SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory scientist Anahid Yeremian. She documented the visit with a video camera, and the video began circulating on the Internet, yielding her an unsolicited $1,000 check from a lawyer in Los Angeles.

"I'd never seen a check like that at that time," she recalled.

Using funds from a $10,000 grant from the Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation, Balabanian teamed with others in Armenia and the United States to create the Internet connection for the school in Aghbradzor.

Participants included students from Stanford University, UCSB, Yerevan State University in Armenia and Balabanian's brother Azad, a Paly student.

For her senior thesis at UCSB, Balabanian is studying the effect of technology on the youth of Aghbradzor.

Friday's event at Bechtel International Center begins at 7:30 p.m. and is co-sponsored by the Stanford Armenian Students Association and UCSB.

Chris Kenrick

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