Washtenaw Community College alumna Alina Verdiyan grew up in Azerbaijan and enjoyed what started out as a typical childhood. It wasn’t long, though, when her life was one of much travel and, eventually, not knowing where her next meal was coming from.
“I just remember being in music class and my mother came in to excuse me and we drove straight to an airplane that was waiting for us,” she said.
At age eight, Verdiyan was too young to understand that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was worsening. She did, however, notice the drastic changes in her family’s lifestyle from that moment on.
Barely two months after fleeing to Armenia, the 1988 Armenian Earthquake struck, measuring 6.8 on the surface wave magnitude scale.
“It was devastating. We had no electricity, no heat and no hot water,” Verdiyan said. “We used to stand in line for hours just to get bread, and when we finally received it, it was covered with lice that we picked out before eating.”
Several years later, Verdiyan’s family immigrated to Moscow—where the living conditions were better—and resided there five years before eventually settling in Ann Arbor when she was 17. Her mother, who was a chief economist, and her father, who was an entrepreneur, had only $1,000 to their names when they immigrated to the U.S.
“It was hard and I don’t know how we did it,” Verdiyan said. “Aside from not speaking English and being unable to communicate with anyone, it was also a culture shock.”
Verdiyan admits she didn’t understand why everyone seemed to smile all the time.
“I thought they were off their rockers until I realized this is just a happy country. People here are happy,” she said.
When it came time to take ESL courses, Verdiyan’s then boss suggested WCC.
“The professors I had were just as good as the ones you’d find at a university,” she said.
Between juggling three jobs and going to school fulltime, Verdiyan remained focused, eventually transferring to and graduating from Eastern Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in computer information services.
But, crunching numbers and handling money interested her the most, so she continued working at her local TCF Bank as a teller following graduation.
It wasn’t long before others noticed Verdiyan’s strong work ethic and at 22, she became the bank’s youngest branch manager. At 25, the bank promoted her to bank officer and senior investment specialist. She went on to start her own award-winning financial services practice and sold a share of it a few years ago.
Today, she serves as a vice president and client advisor for Old National’s wealth management group.
“WCC was so good to me. I received a quality education and paid almost nothing for it,” she said. “It’s a great college, and if it wasn’t for all the patient counselors, financial aid staff and professors, I wouldn’t have made it.”
Although Verdiyan’s road to success was a rocky one, she’s grateful for it and firmly believes the greater the struggle, the greater the victory.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” she said.
By Princess Gabbara
Writer, Public Relations