SCHOOL’s OUT – For Summer
SCHOOL’S OUT – FOR SUMMER
It’s May and the first year at the American University of Vietnam – where I am founding president of this amazing project – has drawn to a close.
It is time to reflect on the year that was (although most students are clamoring for summer courses and eager to continue learning!)
Against impossible odds we launched last September with a cohort of 20 students taking introductory college courses (while we wait for the completion of a campus in Da Nang and final approvals from various Vietnamese ministries).
We put together an eclectic mix of faculty; the only requirements being a commitment to Vietnam, familiarity with teaching students for whom English is not a first language, a graduate degree from a legit American university, and a capacity for uncertainty.
We succeeded. Working with 7 week modules, instead of the old-style 15 week semester (an innovation suggested by former US Senator and New School President Bob Kerrey) we attracted candidates with credentials from SUNY Stony Brook, Grinnell, Emory, TCU in Texas, Indiana, Winona State in Minnesota, U Washington, and the University of Miami. Masters, PhD’s, even one MD.
Most importantly were the students.
They learned, developed as critical thinkers, bonded, created clubs, a Facebook page, went on field trips for leadership development and team-building and worked collaboratively; the best elements of American higher education were present in Ho Chi Minh City.
Of the 20, 17 return for the fall. One transferred, offered a full scholarship in the US; one moved with his family to Canada, another had academic and financial challenges. An eighty-five percent retention rate is awesome – better than many very good colleges in the US.
One third of the students were not quite prepared for college and would have benefitted from a college prep program; one third worked hard, struggled and passed; one third excelled, capable of doing work at any university in America. Most educators I know would be pleased of such a distribution.
Year 2 will have its own set of challenges –typical of a start-up, education in general and particularly in a place like Vietnam. But today, as a proud father, with lots of aunts, uncles, grandparents involved we catch our breath, reflect and smile for a year well done.