Building on tradition with an American education
Dr. Clementina Acedo took over as Director of Webster University Geneva in September 2014. Physically, she didn’t have far to move: she had served for the past seven years as Director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) International Bureau of Education in Geneva. But for Dr. Acedo the new job represents a different kind of international experience.
“The development of quality educational systems in challenging contexts has always been a centre of attention in my research, practice and teaching,” she says. At the IBE, founded in Geneva in 1925, she worked hand in hand with governments to improve their public school systems and curricula, developing new programs in various regions of the word.
At Webster Geneva, she’ll be focusing on education at home. The campus is part of a university network of nine residential campuses on four continents, with its home campus in St. Louis, Missouri. The Geneva campus was founded in 1978, and Webster University overall is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary.
As head of Webster University Geneva, Dr. Acedo will be looking for ways to build on that long tradition.
“The University has strong links to the Geneva community, including to the UN organisations, NGOs and to the corporate world,” says Acedo. This combination of international and local ties was evident in May, when the keynote address for the commencement ceremony —organized by Dr. Acedo—was delivered by Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations office in Geneva.
Møller spoke to a class of graduates who hail from 50 different countries. Webster University Geneva “has up to 90 nationalities at a given time, and in that sense it is a truly international university,” Dr. Acedo says.
Drawing on past experience
In taking over Webster University Geneva, Clementina Acedo will be applying what she has learned in many years as a student, teacher and manager.
“A university is a big enterprise, and a very complex one,” she says. “Managerial, organisational and financial skills are important to leading it. But understanding the intrinsic value of education, knowledge and research, as well as the humanist spirit and the social responsibility the school has, is essential to lead it to further improvement, development and sustainability.”
A native of Venezuela, Dr. Acedo lived in the United States for more than 20 years, earning a master’s degree in international education, a master’s in philosophy, and a doctorate in International Education from Stanford University in California and teaching graduate students as a professor of comparative education at the University of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, before moving to Geneva.
“In Venezuela, I have my family and roots. In the U.S., I built my profession, in accordance with the American values of intellectual freedom, respect and creativity,” she says. “In Switzerland, I fully benefit from the international experience, being the Director of an American University and enjoying the richness of cultures and diversity which so much defines Geneva and what I am.”
Designing a school for the future
All of this previous experience will help Clementina Acedo address the issues facing today’s universities.
“Universities are in a race to adapt themselves to the demands of our times, to help students develop the competencies and skills they need for the 21st Century,” she says.
Dr. Acedo sees “internationalisation” as key to becoming a world-class university. This includes giving students a range of opportunities, from living abroad to understanding various cultural settings and values to mastering different languages. With an international network of residential campuses in Europe, Asia, Africa and the USA, Webster is ahead of other schools, Dr. Acedo says.
But one of her main tasks will be helping the school evolve to meet the challenges of the future.
In addition to offering formal exchanges of students between Webster’s campuses, Webster University Geneva recently installed a teleconferencing system that allows students to attend virtual lectures in real time—at Webster’s network around the world.
And the school, which is accredited in the United States, is also in the process of obtaining Swiss accreditation, which she believes will make it more attractive to students from the local community. Already, local businesses like Richemont—owner of major luxury brands including watch and jewellery company Cartier—or Philip Morris are interested in recruiting Webster’s graduates, who are not only internationally savvy but also often aware of local issues and needs.
Finally, it will be up to Acedo to identify new programs of study for the university which offers bachelor’s, master’s and a doctoral degree, and to adapt existing programs to better address the evolving requirements of society and the economy.
For the new director, her new mission is a valuable one. “I believe in the importance of higher education to better prepare our youth. This is definitely a great responsibility and a challenge.”
Webster University Geneva
15, Route de Collex
1293 Bellevue, Switzerland
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Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri
Article by Jeannie Wurz