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Olivia Chinchinian

Olivia Chinchinian

Written by Becca Johnson

Olivia Chinchinian has been applying her history major to honor the past and advance the future since her freshman year.

In fall 2006, Col. Ken Hunt of the university’s Department of Military Science approached her CORE class, Contemporary American Experience, with the task of creating a proper Vietnam memorial honoring 20 University of Idaho Veterans who died in the Vietnam War.

Up to the challenge, her class designed and implemented construction of a memorial plaque.

"This particular CORE class was highly progressive for being an incoming class of freshmen to undertake the huge project of creating a Vietnam plaque. Every student in the class brought a different form of leadership and strength," says Chinchinian. "This plaque is an honorable representation of what the CORE experience can provide to freshmen students here at the University of Idaho."

The project gave her experience with historiography and primary research. "I had to opportunity to write grants, formally request permission from the university president, and outline a budget and project time frames for the completion," she says. "Without the formal aspect of grant writing and budget planning, this project could have never happened."

In fall 2009, Chinchinian and some of her project team members formally presented the plaque to President Duane Nellis. The plaque will be placed in the Memorial Gym later this year – four years after the project was proposed.

"This project is a completion of my labor and time that is physically represented at the university. I enjoy the prospect of being an alumna of the university, where this plaque will always be on display to honor the university's fallen," she says. "The entirety of the experience taught me how one small group can make change and build legacies if the passion and desire are present."

Families of the deceased recently wrote thank you letters to the CORE class for constructing a plaque in their sons' honor – a touching recognition for Chinchinian. “Our work connected families back to the place where their sons once had life – the University of Idaho,” she says.

Chinchinian built on her service experience and has continued to be involved on campus. She served two terms as a senator for the Associated Students of the University of Idaho (ASUI), and volunteered in New Orleans, La., on Alternative Service Break.

"That trip opened my eyes to compassion," she says. "I believe to have a community and to advance progress, everyone must contribute their strengths. It’s a hard balance because everyone enjoys being relatively egocentric to some extent. But giving empowers the soul."   

“Having a strong work ethic, maintaining relationships and valuing the positive qualities in others is demanding, but imperative if you want success,” says Chinchinian, “My grandfather was an Armenian immigrant to New York who achieved his aspirations with persistence, and I regularly see that quality of perseverance in myself.”

Chinchinian will graduate in May 2010, with bachelor’s degree in history and economics. Her future goals include obtaining a master’s degree, living abroad and volunteering in each community she resides.