AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN BULGARIA: 32 YEARS OF SUCCESS
Dr. David R. Evans, president, on an institution that successfully supports its students both academically and personally
American liberal arts education is in a league of its own, but one does not have to travel to the USA to be a part of it. Since 1991, the American University in Bulgaria has provided top class education by world-renowned professors and a practice-oriented curriculum. Dr. David R. Evans, President of AUBG, tells more about the importance of creating a vibrant academic community, and a spirit that strives towards entrepreneurship and innovation.
Dr. Evans, what are the key features that differentiate AUBG from the rest of the universities?
AUBG’s primary differentiating feature is our overall approach to undergraduate education. We believe that our students’ experience should be comprehensive—that is, we certainly built around academic excellence, but also strive to create an educational context that engages students in a variety of other activities that collectively contribute greatly to their learning. For example, we encourage and support them in forming clubs that promote their interests and often bring the whole community together. Another important aspect of our context is our international diversity: between students, faculty and staff, we have people on campus from over 40 countries interacting with each other every single day, and this helps our students build intercultural competence, develop an understanding of different backgrounds, and collaborate with and learn from colleagues who have different worldviews and experiences. We also encourage students to explore a wide range of academic disciplines, following the model of small liberal arts colleges in the United States, which exposes them to a variety of approaches to thinking about and solving problems and, we hope, broadens their overall perspective. My own time at AUBG has taught me a tremendous amount, and so I’m also a student at the university; I hope I see how our vibrant community differentiates us from many other universities and contributes substantially to our graduates’ success.
How do professors interact with students in view to career orientation?
Many of our faculty have considerable professional experience outside academia, and they are, of course, invaluable advisors for students pursuing careers in their fields. Maybe even more importantly, though, our faculty take seriously their roles as advisors and mentors to our students, and will happily work closely with them as they consider their next steps beyond AUBG. Our faculty strongly support student internships, and use their professional networks to help students find the best opportunities for them to learn about and advance in their planned careers. More broadly, we provide many opportunities on campus for our students to meet with potential employers, engage in career-development programs, and network with alumni and others who can provide career advice.
Please, briefly outline a few great career success stories of your alumni recently.
It’s difficult to narrow the selection, as our alumni have done many amazing things, both recently and further back in AUBG’s history. For instance, alumni-founded Payhawk last year became Bulgaria’s first ever unicorn. Payhawk is a fintech and offers companies a financial management platform to manage issuing credit cards to employees, expenses, bills, and ultimately accounting. The company was co-founded by AUBG alumnus Hristo Borisov (’10), who is CEO.
From an earlier student generation, Manol Peykov (BA'95, EMBA'08) is a publisher, running Janet45 publishing house in Bulgaria, a noted translator and a literary agent, founder of Sofia Literary Agency. He is co-owner of the recording studio "The Bakery," creator of the cultural information guide "The Plovdiv Info Program," and supporter of many cultural institutions and events. As a member of the National Council of the political party Yes, Bulgaria! he was elected as a Member of the 45th National Assembly at the April 2021 elections and as a Member of the 46th National Assembly at the July 2021 elections. Recently, he has been deeply engaged and successful in raising millions of leva to support victims of the war in Ukraine, beginning soon after it began with efforts to provide generators to the country to help protect against loss of electricity and books for libraries to support the Bulgarian minority in Ukraine. Even more recently, he has been involved in assisting the victims of the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
SiteGround, founded by alumnus Ivo Tzenov, class of 2003, is a web hosting company, founded in 2004 in Sofia, Bulgaria. As of January 2020, it provided hosting for about 2,000,000 domains worldwide. It provides shared hosting, cloud hosting, enterprise solutions, email hosting, and domain registration. In 2019, the company employed about 500 people.
Two of our alumni, Maria Petrova ’95, and Elton Skendaj ’00, are directors of graduate programs at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, one of the top universities in the United States—Maria for the M.S. in Environment and Sustainability Management, and Elton for the M.A. program in Democracy and Governance. Both are teaching short courses in their areas of expertise to AUBG undergraduates this semester.
This spring, our seniors are beginning to receive notification of admission to graduate schools, and once again they are going to selective and prestigious programs around the world, recently including Sciences Po in Paris, Yale, Johns Hopkins, and American University in Washington, DC.
How does your Executive MBA based in Sofia approach the future of leadership?
Great leaders require great networks, and one of the standout things about our EMBA program is how successfully it has cultivated such networks for generations of students. The program is designed to support students both academically and in developing strong positive relationships with their classmates, in a different way but following a similar philosophy to our undergraduate program. Given the explosion of knowledge, technology, and complexity in today’s work world, there is simply no way any one person can master all the skills and information to be a successful leader. So, building a network of friends and colleagues who can be advisors, ad hoc mentors, and simply moral supporters is essential to executives’ future success, and we have built a program that deeply recognizes and serves this need.
Commenting on www.vagabond.bg