AUBG President Dr. David R. Evans talks about the extraordinary achievements of the university since its establishment 30 years ago
Back in 1991, an educational institution was born in Bulgaria that changed higher education in the region forever. Ever since the American University in Bulgaria opened doors in the town of Blagoevgrad 30 years ago, it has been building a strong national and international reputation for its excellent American liberal arts education, vital academic community, and a spirit that strives towards entrepreneurship and innovation. Dr. David R. Evans, President of AUBG, tells more.
30 years ago, AUBG debuted and redefined higher education in Bulgaria. What has the university achieved in those years?
I think that AUBG has met and exceeded the hopes of the founders and early supporters to create an institution that provides exceptional educational opportunities for students in the style of an American liberal arts college. We have about 5,500 graduates of our various programs all over the world, and they are successful in their chosen fields and active contributors to their societies. They model engaged citizenship and professional abilities, and are the living embodiment of the dreams of those early years. We have graduated successful leaders in business, politics, and civil-society organizations who are actively working to be ethical, democratic, and inclusive.
We are an active participant in a number of global initiatives, and have brought hundreds of non-Bulgarians to study here, some of whom have stayed and contributed to our society and culture, while many more have returned home or to a third country to pursue their various callings.
A university should be judged on its graduates, and by that measure AUBG is clearly an amazing success.
We went from makeshift spaces and improvised solutions to many challenges to a beautiful, state-of-the-art campus that is a demonstration of the community's will to succeed and the great support of our many friends and donors. We have a brilliant student life on campus, and wonderful, tight networks of students and alumni both here in Blagoevgrad and in our graduate programs in Sofia. We continue to innovate in our academic and related programs, and we put our students, their success and well-being, first in our decisions.
What makes you proud of AUBG?
As you might guess from my previous answer, I am extremely proud of our alumni, and am humbled by their successes. I am also most proud of our current students, many of whom I have come to know well over the past two years; they are smart, engaged and engaging, hard-working, and extraordinarily broad in their skills and interests.
I am proud that we bring students from all over our historically troubled region to live and study together, creating lifelong relationships of trust and support among them.
I am proud of the accomplishments of our dedicated and talented faculty as both teachers and scholars/creators.
I am especially proud of how well our whole community has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, though of course I wish that had not been an issue at all!
How do you plan to celebrate?
We have numerous events planned for the year, though of course much depends on developments with the pandemic. We begin in September with a visit from a very distinguished Bulgarian to be named soon, and will celebrate with an all-alumni "Mega-reunion" in early October which will also commemorate our gratitude to the Municipality of Blagoevgrad in its visionary support for creating the university. In April we will have a conference in Sofia celebrating the history, heritage and mission of the university, and formally launching our premier new strategic initiative, the Center for Democratic Citizenship, as well as a final grand gala celebration of the 30th anniversary. There will be many smaller events and programs related to the anniversary as well, and I am looking forward to an exciting year.
What defines the AUBG experience?
In the spring of 2020, as part of our strategic planning process, we polled current students, alumni, faculty, staff, the board of trustees, and friends of the university, asking them to give us three words that define AUBG for them.
By far the three most common answers were Community, Diversity, and Opportunity.
There is a great deal to say about each of these words, but my space is limited, so let me just say that I was deeply pleased by these responses, which I think are exactly right.
How do you adapt the curriculum to the latest global trends in education?
This is, of course, an ongoing process and one that is vital to AUBG's ongoing success.
Right now, we are working on our curriculum from two directions. First of all, we have learned many lessons in the past months about various forms of virtual instruction—online, video conference, and various mixes, as well as online/in-person hybrids. It's not yet completely clear how we will work with these forms in the future, but with respect to how we teach, I expect that we will never go back to the ways things were before the pandemic. In this regard if no other, then, Covid-19 has been a real positive for AUBG, compelling us to develop new skills among the faculty, students, and administration to meet contemporary needs.
Our second project related to the curriculum is evaluating it in terms of current market needs, while always being mindful of our liberal arts mission and the core nature of the institution. We are looking both at entirely new academic programs and at programs that grow out of our current academic strengths, as well as adjustments to existing programs to ensure their currency and value both for themselves and in the employment market. We know we are responsible to our students for providing them the best possible opportunities to be prepared for success, so that is the first question we always ask when looking at what we do in the academic area.
If you were a student in AUBG what program would you choose and why?
That's a very interesting question. My own academic preparation is in the traditional area of English literature, so part of me is inclined to say I might do that again, since it is a discipline I still love and which has been the foundation of my entire career. I think, though, that at AUBG I might major in Journalism and Mass Communication, because the faculty is great and their students are doing exceptional work not just directly in the field but in various related areas such as community development and professional writing. I could also continue to feed my love of language and my deep interest in current affairs, both here in Bulgaria and in the U.S., by being part of that program.
Nevertheless, I want to say that students with other kinds of interests are doing equally great things with equally great faculty, and like many liberal arts students I might change my mind once or twice before I graduate (again!).