Open Eye: First Thursday: Globetrotting graduands settle down

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The Independent Online
Most people on the outside of the vast and ever-growing population that forms the OU community have fairly fixed ideas about the nature of the Open University student. I know, because recently I have been talking to people about affiliating or allying their businesses in some way to The OU Link (which embraces the lot - students, graduates, staff and supporters).

All of them have different, though not dissimilar, ideas. None of the descriptions however takes in Constantin and Armineh Ohanian, who were presented with their degrees a couple of weeks ago.

They were born in Iran of Armenian descent, and started their education in Tehran. They moved to Europe when Constantin started a marketing career with Proctor and Gamble in Geneva. From there he joined CBS records in Paris as general manager for the Middle East. Then Clorox in Oakland, as general manager Europe and the Middle East. He later became group vice- president with Tambrands in New York, and then back to Geneva as vice- president at RJR Nabisco.

While studying for their OU degrees they lived and worked in twelve different countries and have - probably - now settled down, back on the US east coast where Constantin and their son are, not inappropriately, currently building a real-time learning technology firm servicing Fortune 500 clients in New York.

They started their OU studies together while temporarily in the UK. As Constantin says, "It changed our lives. It brought us closer together and it helped us both in our career development."

Constantin did all - and he emphasises all - his studies while travelling on business, which he describes as "The best use of otherwise dead time."

The first time they had to go to summer school, the couple chose to do it at Finchley Road - round the corner from where they lived in Hampstead. But at this time Constantin was with Clorox, managing Europe, the Middle East and Mexico, and, as luck would have it, he had to return from Mexico in order to attend class - he was studying cognitive psychology.

When it came to their finals, Armineh flew in from Los Angeles, and Constantin had to return by Concorde from New York in order to get there in time.

They took the exam... and next day headed straight back to Heathrow. She to New York, he to China. And, finally, Constantin was bored on the plane:

"For the first time in years", he says, "I had nothing to do."

The demands of a growing business thereafter prevented their getting to England at the same time in order to receive their degrees, and to graduate formally.

But here, The Link stepped in.

In addition to being St George's Day and Shakespeare's birthday, April 23 is also the date of the establishment by Royal Charter of the Open University. This year, exactly 30 years on, was also the date of the OU's first graduate dinner in the United States and coincidentally the launch date of the University's fledgling operations in the US.

Starting this month the USOU is offering one of its most popular business courses, The Capable Manager, to a pilot intake of American students. In autumn the pilot will be expanded to include a BSc (Computing) and a range of undergraduate courses leading to a BA with majors in European Studies and International Studies.

The occasion seemed the perfect opportunity to combine with the first "graduation" ceremony in the United States.

Ede and Ravenscroft, robe-makers to royalty and to the OU, kindly provided two new bachelors' gowns; Awards and Ceremonies produced replica degree certificates, and the event was on.

The degrees were presented by the Vice-Chancellor immediately before the USA graduates' dinner at the Kellogg Mansion - former home and Arabian stud farm of the cereal magnate, W K Kellogg - now part of the California State Polytechnic University, an institution which (befitting its long name), with 350,000 undergraduate students, is even bigger than the OU, and is probably the biggest in the free world.

California's was the fourth of five eve-of-graduation dinners held so far this year: the others were at Harrogate, Nottingham, Exeter and Edinburgh. Tomorrow's (Friday's) is at Birmingham. On May 14 the dinner is at Cardiff, and on May 21 at Eastbourne. There are still tickets available from the address at the foot of the page opposite.

In addition to celebrating graduation (former graduates as well as next day's graduands are equally welcome), the dinners mark the University's 250,000th degree or diploma, its 30th anniversary, and 30 years association with the BBC.