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Meeting Helene Sostarich-Barsamian

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-02-24

Helene Sostarich-Barsamian is the executive director of the Friends of Freie Universitaet Berlin, Inc. which was founded in January 2003 with the support of the Freie Universitaet Berlin in Germany. In her highly exuberant fashion, she reminded The New York Sun yesterday that the Free University was founded in 1948 to espouse ideas of political freedom and intellectual independence in Germany after World War II, largely with support from America, to preserve a politically unencumbered educational environment during the time of West Berlin's geographical and political isolation.

She spoke to a reporter in English, but the Bucharest-born Ms. Sostarich-Barsamian -- who holds degrees in French and German languages and literatures from Rice University in Houston, Texas, Universite Catholique de Louvain, Belgium and New York University -- could just have easily spoken in French, German, Rumanian, Armenian and Italian, languages in which she's fluent.

"For more than five decades, the Freie Universitaet Berlin has built upon its passionate history, continuing its dedication to the founding principles contained in its motto: 'Truth, Justice and Liberty,'" Ms. Sostarich-Barsamian said from her office on First Avenue near the United Nations.

This evening, FFUB will honor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the Geneva-based World Economic Forum, with the 2005 Transatlantic Bridge Award at its annual gala the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan. John Costas, chairman and CEO of UBS Investment will serve as chairman of the event. More than 300 of the city's elite will attend, thanks to Ms. Sostarich-Barsamian's extensive network of corporate, academic and cultural contacts.

She began building that network as project manager for the real-estate investments arm of Prudential Financial, and thereafter as assistant dean for administrative affairs at the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University. "I have always pursued an agenda of incorporating a grasp of cultural and social diversity for the benefit of the institutions that I've been associated with," Ms. Sostarich-Barsamian said.

She said that the Free University -- which has nearly 40,000 students on its Berlin campus -- has some 3,500 alumni in America. Ms. Sostarich-Barsamian wants to track down all of them in order to building "lasting intellectual and cultural alliances" between America and Germany. She expects that her organization will open offices in California and the Midwest, working in tandem with major U.S. companies.

Ms. Sostarich-Barsamian has long been active on the New York social and cultural scene with her support of the New York City Ballet, the New York Philharmonic, the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. She sits on the board of trustees of the Morris Museum, where she recently bequeathed in the name of her father, Carol Sostarich, a collection of African tribal masks and figurines that she collected over a period of 30 years.

How does she manage to find time for all this activity? "Let's just say that I don't like to sit still," Ms. Sostarich-Barsamian said.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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