Stratsi Kulinski: The Student and The President
He buzzes in and out of his door, buried in his daily agenda, laden in appointments, Board Meetings, out-of-town meetings and fundraising initiatives. Morning to night, his mind endlessly monitors for market opportunities linking investors with AUBG. He is the figurehead of the university and formal as he may seem to be, his amiable character can always win you over. Meet the president of AUBG, Stratsi Kulinski.
As an alumnus, Kulinski’s strong emotional bond with AUBG has been ever-present since his graduation in 1995. His investment in the university’s prosperity has seen him become a member of the Board of Trustees, prior to his appointment as a president. Seeing firsthand former presidents like David Huwiler, Michael Easton and Kevin Aspegren come and go, Kulinski recognized the challenges in managing the presidential dynamics in the university.
“It hasn’t been an optimal situation,” Kulinski said. “I look forward to invest emotionally and professionally in a long-term relationship with everyone.”
The focus of his personal commitment towards more communication with AUBG students, faculty and staff has so far resulted in two town hall meetings and two open doors days, in addition to a conference with the Alumni Chapter in Sofia a month ago. The alumni relations have been a top priority for the president as he sees the need for stronger alumni engagement with AUBG. During his first town hall speech as a president, Kulinski emphasized on the fact that currently only 3.5 percent of all 4,000 graduates donate back to the university.
“We need more alumni working in AUBG as faculty members, trustees and administration personnel,” the president said. “It is important we take tangible steps to find truly investing alumni to channel the alumni’s efforts.”
Such organizational, regulatory and financial challenges have become somewhat of an everyday habit for Kulinski ever since his early days in AUBG as an undergraduate student. Joseph Pilov, a business professor at AUBG, and former classmate of Kulinski, said that “AUBG is in a stage right now that needs someone like him. I think it is time for a change, we are ready for someone to put a stick on the ground and say ‘OK, we are going to do this, and this is our direction’.
Pilov added that “the fact that he [Kulinski] is a former AUBG student makes a big difference because he really cares about the institution. If we want to make a real change at the university, we need to engage more former AUBG students whether they are going to be working for AUBG, donating money, or working on side projects, even give ideas.”
Back in 1991 Kulinski entered as one of the 208 students of AUBG’s first class. Kalin Hadjidimov, a Partner in KPMG in Bulgaria and former classmate of Kulinski, said,
“I met Stratsi in AUBG where both of us were first-year students in the newly established university back in 1990. We were people who chose to sacrifice the secure education in a Bulgarian higher education institutions and try something new – a new university that was still not approved under Bulgarian laws.”
Kulinski soon became a co-founder of Radio Aura, the university’s oldest club and the first private radio station in Bulgaria.
“Stratsi had long hair, always smiling, and spreading joy and optimism around. He was very active in social activities and in the student Radio AURA,” Hadjidimov said.
Recalling his first moments behind the mike and his collaboration with fellow members who’ve had little to no savvy for operating a radio station, Kulinski’s fondness for AUBG grows even greater. Working with people like Christo Grozev(’95), Manol Peykov(’95) and Dimitar Nachkov(’95), he jumped into the initiative of creating a commercial radio that soon started its syndication.
„Years later we didn’t realize how hard it’s been because of the exuberant experience we had,“ Kulinski said.
During the four years Kulinski spent as a member of the radio, the club began the production of US programing similar to the one of Radio Express’ World Chart. Soon other Bulgarian radios came to Blagoevgrad to learn from Radio Aura’s team and absorb from the practices of the already experienced radio members. The radio’s success today is best exemplified by a handful of graduates, like Denitsa Slavova, Simeon Kolev(’02) and Irina Bachvarova(’96), who continue to thrive in the TV production and radio broadcasting business and, as Kulinski said, “pair DNA with Radio Aura.”
That “trip down memory lane”, as Kulinski described it, still serves to remind him of the journey of discovering what defined him as a university student in AUBG. It meant strenuous but rewarding involvement in organizing student conferences in Sofia, attending meetings with the board as a student representative and even coordinating welcome parties for Erasmus students.
Academics and clubs both played their role, but it was the latter that Kulinski described as the constituent of his belonging to the university.
“Clubs are the glue to the community here,” the president said. “They gave me a sense of affinity with the place. I spent disproportionately big amount of time in clubs and less time in doing my homework. We commonly focus on GPA but the holistic approach to education is the real mark of excellent performance.”
Pilov and Kulinski participated in several different clubs. They were part of Radio Aura’s IT support and even sang in the AUBG choir.
“So many years back you usually remember what you did outside of the class rather than in the class.” Pilov said. “I encourage students to build their experience doing things out of the class because that is where you build your relationships and those are the things that last.”
Kulinski’s efforts to maximize the students’ interest in initiatives and clubs now continues through both conversation and financial support. His distinguished scholarship provides financial aid for one student, who has shown vigor and quality in his work for the social clubs and initiatives that AUBG provides.
With the avalanche of tasks and duties over his first three months as a president, Kulinski scarcely finds the leisure time to enjoy life outside the administrative buildings. Nonetheless he has already paid a couple of visits to the ABF gym and has become an eager fan of the AUBG Rock Jamming Club and the Svetlina Ensemble. His hobbies include live music performances and Blockbuster movies.
This article was a joint effort of AUBG Daily’s Owls Georgi Dobrev and Didi Petkova.