Blowing Out The 25 Candles
The American University in Bulgaria has reached a serious, respected and responsible age. 25 years – a quarter century of successful graduates, growth, and development.
The celebrations took place on campus from Friday, Sept. 30, to Sunday, Oct. 2, and included a number of cultural, educational, and entertaining events such as lectures, conferences, a rock concert, and an Alumni reunion.
“This particular reunion was more to leverage the several things happening at the same time – the anniversary, the conferences, the rock concert,” shared Stratsi Kulinksi, the AUBG president, a day before the start of the celebrations. “I wanted our alumni reunions to be not only social and bonding, but also educational. So we reincorporated more prominently lifelong learning with different lectures.”
The celebrations started with the Education, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Conference that happened on Friday, Sept. 30. The event was opened by Kulinski who mentioned some of the AUBG’s achievements over the years. Not many people, for example, know that historically AUBG is the second place to have Internet access in Bulgaria and is the home of the first private radio station run by students, Radio Aura.
Nancy Schiller, President of the Board of Directors, went on to introduce the America for Bulgaria Foundation with a 10-chapter story describing the organization’s tough way to what it is today. She also expressed the foundation’s desire for a shared future:
“We are not just a foundation, you are not just a university – together we are changing the environment and our hope is to be here a long time,” she said.
The conference also delivered some insights on the Bulgarian innovation system. Dr. Anna-Marie Vilamovska, Senior Advisor for Innovation Policy and Healthcare Policy to Bulgaria’s President H.E. Rossen Plevneliev, explained that Bulgarians are experiencing deficiency of skill for entrepreneurship. On the other side, Iskren Krusteff, Chairman of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Bulgaria Board, opposed her opinion by saying that the Bulgarian nation has the lowest fear of failure and is more willing to start working in foreign companies based in Bulgaria.
Veneta Andonova, former AUBG professor, asserted that there is a lack of value based thinking and addressed the essential role that universities play in innovation systems. Andonova also said that when it comes to entrepreneurship, AUBG is the most progressive educational institution in Bulgaria that has embraced with enthusiasm new technological innovations.
Todor Breshkov, Managing Pertner at LAUNCHub, expressed the need to make any examples of entrepreneurial success more conspicuous.
“We should make people understand it’s achievable to start a business,” Breshkov said.
Also on Friday, AUBG officially launched Aspire – the co-working space that aims at promiting the entrepreneurial spirit on campus and bringing students and professionals together.
“The real magic here I think would happen when we start layering some programs, mentoring and accelerator capabilities to people’s ideas,” said Kulinksi. “We are working with the alumni to create even a funding network for some of the start-ups that hopefully come to life here.”
The end of the first day of celebrations was marked by a rock concert of the Bulgarian band the Foundation.
The celebrations continued during the weeked. On Saturday, Oct. 1, the new sports facilities were officially opened.
During the ceremony, Kulinski expressed his hope that the local people will also take advantage of the sports facilities on campus.
“It is incredibly important for AUBG to be open to the community the same way our whole campus is open. Those wires around the sports field are designed to keep the balls in, rather than the people out,” Kulinski said.
The focus event of the day was the Celebration Ceremony in the Theater Hall. It brought together current students, alumni, faculty, and staff with the performances of the Broadway Performance Club, the AUBG Choir and Bulgarian Folk Dance Club Samodiva. A short movie with memories and stories from the history of the university was shown. The Mayor of the Blagoevgrad Municipality, Dr. Atanas Kambitov, also made a speech during the ceremony to congratulate the institution on its 25th Anniversary.
President Kulinski, who is also an AUBG alumnus, shared some of his early memories of the university – course registration in a basement, library in a closet, classes in the main building, which was basically an abandoned communist party building. He pointed out that one should keep these things in mind because the past 25 years are an indicator of the attained progress.
Furthermore, Kulinski shared with pride the results from the first Alumni survey. According to it, 98.8% of the AUBG graduates are employed, 11% are entrepreneurs, 45% have master’s degrees, and 50% earn more than $40,000 a year.
Following this thought and considering his own experience, Vladimir Rusev, the new president of the AUBG’s Alumni Asssociation, noted that success involves both ups and downs.
“The market crashed, all the sales went down, and in my private life, my wife was diagnosed with a dangerous disease,” Rusev said.
However, he was able to overcome these obstacles by broadening his social connections, helping others and being optimistic.
Additionally, Kulinski shared some of the key future goals for AUBG such as fixing the prising issue, innovating the GenEd curriculum and the academic product overall, experimenting with one-credit courses on the weekends as well as with some online classes the following year, and introducing a minor in Psychology in the Spring 2017 semester, which can eventually become a major.
To the question of what the future holds for AUBG, Kulinski said, “The definitive center of excellence for studying, teaching and working together in South-Eastern Europe; a role model. We have a very aspirational, yet achievable vision. We have a number of challenges, but we also see students, faculty, staff that are very committed to AUBG. People even subconsciously recognize how important this place is, how impactful it is and they want to work to improve it.“
No wonder why, when asked to describe the university’s past, present and future with three words, the President answered confidently:
“FUN. PROMISING. TRIUMPHANT.”