Though Erion Veliaj, ’02 chose Grand Valley by pure coincidence, his journey leading him to where he is today proves that it was destiny. A native of Albania, Veliaj has been named to a cabinet position in the new center-left government of Albania, following elections in 2013.
Veliaj was named Minister of Social Welfare and Youth last fall, and said he has high hopes to accomplish many goals on fronts including employment services, labor issues, social services, youth, pensions and more.
“All in all never a boring day at the ministry,” he said. “The outgoing government used and abused a lot of our social funds, so we’re scrambling to find a way to recuperate funds for those who most need them – the disabled, orphans, and the very poor. It’s a ‘Samaritan’ project of sorts, difficult but probably the most satisfying job in the world.”
Veliaj assumes the four-year ministry position in Albania after spending time studying international relations and political science at Grand Valley. He used his classroom experience to start MJAFT in 2003, a youth protest movement against corruption and lack of public services in Albania. The organization was awarded the United Nations Civil Society Award in 2004.
He discovered GVSU when a team from Grand Rapids came over to help at a local orphanage he volunteered at. At the time GVSU had helped set up the School of Social Work at his main university in Albania.
“It was suggested that I gave GVSU a go. It sounded like a great adventure, and so it was!” said Veliaj.
Veliaj said encouragement from his professors at Grand Valley helped him learn more about his chosen path and how he could use his talents for change. He said Professor Polly Diven encouraged him to move to Kosovo for a year following NATO liberation efforts there to learn about international relations first-hand rather than via a textbook. Veliaj also said his experience with Professor John Constantelos’ model-EU group was significant, as the students won a major tournament by running a mock government of Sweden. Constantelos also mentored Veliaj as he completed his capstone work in Rwanda following the proceedings of the genocide court in Kigali.
“I can’t think of any other place that encourages students to explore and learn on the ground like the team of professor-mentors at Grand Valley,” Veliaj said.
While he believes his proudest career moment is yet to come, Veliaj is quite pleased to see the thousands of people they have helped lift out of poverty in eight intense months. Though back in his native land, Veliaj admits he misses snow the most about GVSU.
This spotlight was compiled with assistance from GVSU Institutional Marketing and University Communications.