The new year at Fresno State’s College of Arts and Humanities begins with a few changes. Following Dean Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval’s appointment to Provost of Fresno State, Associate Dean, Dr. Honora Chapman, was named Interim Dean of the college, leaving an opening in the Associate Dean position. Dr. Sergio La Porta, chair of the Philosophy Department and Haig and Isabel Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies, was selected following a college-wide search, to fulfill this position.
La Porta will serve as Interim Associate Dean and will continue to be the Haig and Isabel Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies. The Philosophy Department faculty will select a new Interim Department Chair at the beginning of the Fall semester.
“I was very moved and grateful that the faculty and the interim Dean had the confidence in me to select me for this position,” said La Porta.
He began his new role on August 19.
Born and raised in Queens, New York, La Porta’s love of travel and attraction to the cultures of the Middle East and Asia has fueled his scholarship. He graduated magna cum laude at Columbia University in New York with a Bachelor of Arts in Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures in 1994 and in 2001 received his Ph.D. in Armenian and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University. He met his wife, Malina Zakian, when they were both in Armenia on a summer-study program. They married in 2003 in New York and now have two children, Lucine and Zaven.
“I first fell in love with the classical Armenian language when taking it for the study of Early Christianity. The playfulness of the sounds and grammatical structure of Armenian enticed me!” La Porta said. “Once I learned the language, the large number of medieval texts preserved in Armenian astounded me, and I decided to focus on medieval Armenian intellectual history. Working with Armenian manuscripts, reading these fragments of the past, and trying to put the pieces together still excite me.”
In 2001, La Porta accepted an appointment as a visiting lecturer in Armenian studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before becoming a permanent lecturer in 2003.
La Porta came to Fresno State in 2009 as an Associate Professor and the Haig and Isabel Berberian Chair of Armenian Studies. He became a full professor four years later.
“When I applied to Fresno State, I knew very little about the city except for the fact that a lot of Armenians lived in it and William Saroyan was from here,” La Porta recalled. “I also knew the program was very active, and that was attractive for me as a scholar.”
What he found was a welcoming and supportive community eager to get him settled into Fresno State and integrated into the surrounding community. As he worked into his role, he sensed that everyone at Fresno State had an impact on their surroundings. Rather than being one person in a thousand, he felt that the support of colleagues empowered each individual at the university to make a difference in student’s lives and ultimately the community as a whole. The result was a deep satisfaction which furthered a sense of obligation and inspired a bold path for the future.
“This is crucial — you are more satisfied when you feel like you are making a difference. We all have a responsibility to continue to make Fresno a better place to live, and it is invigorating to know that everyone who works at Fresno State feels the same way.”
In his new role as Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, La Porta, inspired by his love of travel, plans to expand study abroad opportunities for students which he considers essential to broadening their horizons. In addition, he would like to facilitate faculty-student mentorships and promote more service-learning courses. He is also eager to get to know more of his colleagues and gain a deeper understanding of their scholarship.
“I believe the College of Arts and Humanities is the most important part of Fresno State. I see the college as the intellectual and creative glue that keeps the rest of the university together and ensures that our students, regardless of their major, are educated individuals who will continue to ask questions and learn throughout their lives.”
La Porta said he is thankful for his colleague and head of the Armenian Studies program Barlow Der Mugrdechian for getting him acclimated to Fresno State and his hard work with the program. He is also grateful to the Armenian community in Fresno who welcomed him and his family with open arms.