Shahabian honored with Alumni Achievement Award
Eleven Penn State alumni were honored for outstanding professional accomplishment by the age of 35 or younger and presented with the Penn State Alumni Association's Alumni Achievement Award at a dinner ceremony on April 12, 2013, at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on the University Park campus. Among the honorees was Leon Shahabian, 2001, formerly of Wyomissing, who attended Penn State Berks.
Shahabian is the co-founder, vice president, and treasurer of Layalina Productions, Inc. a 9/11 public diplomacy initiative to inform and influence millions of television viewers in the Middle East and North Africa.
A student at Penn State University Park campus when the attacks of 9/11 occurred, he recalls that many of his fellow students wanted to get involved and help in some way; some joined the military; others found positions in government.
“One day our grandkids are going to ask us what we did after 9/11 in service of our great nation,” states Shahabian. He will have a lot to say in response to that question.
After graduating in December 2001 with a degree in International Politics, he took the skills that he acquired at Penn State, and in 2002, became one of the two founding staff members of Layalina Productions, a nonprofit television production company. Located in Washington, D.C., Layalina Productions produces documentary and “reality” TV shows that air on the leading Arab television channels. Translating to “Our Nights,” Layalina is aptly named because the company’s programs are only aired during prime time in the Middle East.
Shahabian explains that he grew with the company, which serves as an outlet for reaching the Arab people through television and media publications. Today he serves as vice president and corporate treasurer.
Generation Entrepreneur, a youth entrepreneurship reality series, that Shahabian created, wrote, and is executive producing, builds companies with current students and creates jobs for recent graduates in an area where positions are greatly needed.
“They elect officers, they issue stock, they have a business model that community leaders–especially from the business sector–have blessed, and those who win get incubation funding,” Shahabian explains.
He is the executive producer of the hit reality series On the Road in America, now in its third season, which features Arab students who discover the diversity and uniqueness of the United States on their first visit to the country. On the Road in America is carried by MBC 1, the Sundance Channel, and MBN, and distributed by Warner Brothers and New Line Television.
American Caravan, the sequel series to On the Road in America, is another popular show that features six young American students who travel for the first time to five Arab countries, on a thirteen-week journey, in the footsteps of the Arab Spring.
He was executive producer of Back from the Brink, a feature documentary on countering violent extremism; produced and executive produced the award-winning documentary Life After Death, which features family members of American, Arab, and European victims of Al-Qaeda, and is carried on Al-Arabiya and MBN; and executive produced the Sister Cities documentary, Windy City, White City.
Shahabian served from 2005 to 2011 as the senior editor of The Layalina Review on Public Diplomacy and Arab Media. Since 2008, he has served as the senior editor of Layalina’s Perspectives, an op-ed series. Shahabian is a writer, director and producer for Kuma Games, the New York-based world leader in episodic video games. He is a member of the Public Diplomacy Council.
During a recent visit to Penn State Berks, Shahabian fondly recalled that his journey began at the campus, where he was a student from 1997 through 1999. He then completed his degree in International Politics and French Language and Literature, with a minor in History, at University Park.
Initially, Shahabian decided to attend Berks because his family lives in the area. He was involved in several student organizations, and served as president of Pi Sigma Alpha (Political Science Honors Society). During his college career, Shahabian made the Dean’s List for seven semesters and completed five internships in Washington, D.C. on Capitol Hill, with trade associations, advocacy groups, and a think tank.
Shahabian emphasizes the value of a Liberal Arts education. “The skills that students learn in their liberal arts classes can be applied to many aspects of their life and career. You are taught how to think and analyze, and you are learning transferable skills. Wherever you end up, you’ll bring value to a company.”
The Alumni Achievement Award is bestowed on alumni for reaching an extraordinary level of professional accomplishment by the age of 35 or younger. Academic colleges or campuses nominate alumni who are then selected by a University-wide committee. President Rodney Erickson invites them to return to campus for several days to share their expertise with students and the University community. The Alumni Achievement Award began in 2005 and since then has honored 96 outstanding alumni.