It was a dream that spawned the American University of Phnom Penh. Almost ten (10) years before the start of AUPP, ideas had already been formulated about developing a high quality education institution in Cambodia. In 2011, Dr. Kem Reat Viseth, the former Director of the School of Graduate Studies of the National School of Management, arranged a meeting with Professor Ken Dunn, then a Fulbright Scholar to Cambodia. The then to be founders of the university met and as a result of those discussions and interactions, a new university that would meet international standards was further conceptualized. This would be a university that would rise above others and demonstrate itself as a model international university for other universities in Cambodia to learn from and to follow as a model. This would be AUPP.
Professor Dunn, an administrator from Middlesex Community College in Lowell, Massachusetts approached the then President of the College who embraced the opportunity to assist with an American model of education in Cambodia. In May of 2013, a group of educators and business leaders from Massachusetts came to Cambodia to assess the educational environment and the status of potential high school students. Their fact-finding mission confirmed that generally, Cambodian students at that time, were not ready to enter collegiate programs. Thus, they designed not only the collegiate program and the appropriate administrative services but also designed and developed an English Preparatory semester program to assist students in improving their English and gaining skills in public speaking, writing, critical thinking, listening, grammar and study skills so that they had essential skills to be successful in a collegiate environment.
As a result, the founders dream came true as the American University of Phnom Penh began operations in May, 2013 in an aesthetically pleasing temporary facility in Toul Kork. It is a non-profit institution, aiming to contribute to the human resource development of Cambodia. It was grounded on several principles: senior management was to be highly qualified, experienced western administrators with administrative skills and experience in academic affairs; faculty with terminal degrees from U.S. institutions, along with teaching experience in U.S. institutions; an undergraduate curriculum that met U.S. accreditation requirements for a balance between liberal arts education and appropriate coursework for a major; and, the availability of high achieving students. An International Advisory Board was created of experienced educators, administrators and business leaders from the U.S. and Cambodia. This group was tasked with advising on the management, governance and academic structures, programs and services that AUPP would model. Concomitantly, a Board of Trustees was formed to direct the course of the University and oversee its development. The U.S. Embassy, offered its support with the following statement: “AUPP is working in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy in developing academic opportunities and vocational training programs in Cambodia”. The statement that has now been revised to read “AUPP collaborates with the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia to enhance the academic, professional, and social opportunities for AUPP students”.
With the assistance of Middlesex Community College and these educators and business leaders, they appointed a temporary President, an American with legal background who was fluent in Khmer in May, 2013. She took the reign for a short period and was followed by Dr. Armitage, an international consultant in higher education and Professor Dunn taking over as a team as Acting President until a new President could be appointed. They served from November, 2013 through June, 2014. During this initial period, Dr. Hartman was named Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs and Student Affairs through the assistance of The Registry (September 2013 through December 2014) and Dr. Poling was named Acting Vice President for Finance and Administration from January 2014 through May 2014. In March 2014, the Founders along with Dr. Armitage and other Cambodians visited several U.S. universities, including Middlesex Community College, the University of Massachusetts Lowell, California State University Long Beach, Ohio University, Pepperdine University, Lesley University, Bridgewater State University, Mary Washington University, George Mason University and George Washington University. As a result of this visit, AUPP has a 2+2 transfer agreement with the University of Massachusetts Lowell in addition to the existing 1+1 transfer agreement with Middlesex Community College. The delegation also visited with the senior staff of a regional accreditation agency to discuss the goal of AUPP becoming an accredited institution through a U.S. regional accrediting agency.
A new President, Dr. Sharon Siverts, was named in July 2014, along with a new Vice President for Finance and Administration, Mr. Russell Rein. A new Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, Dr. William Heidcamp, was appointed effective January 2015, and a new Vice President for Finance and Administration, Dr. Julia Saurazas, in May 2015. The administrative team was now complete and is guiding and steering the University to meet its mission. As the new administration was put in place, the Board of AUPP was restructured. The new Board is composed of American educators who have been former presidents or senior administrators at U.S. institutions, executives of higher education associations in the U.S., and business executives from across the globe and from Cambodia. This new Board is dedicated to making AUPP a leading higher education in Cambodia, fostering socially responsible behavior, life-long learning, academic and professional excellence among students; producing students who are critical thinkers, innovator and ethical leaders to serve Cambodia and the ASEAN Economic Community.
A new campus has been acquired and architectural drawings have been completed. Construction began June 2015. Expected completion is 2017. This new modern facility has been designed to enhance and support a model academic teaching and learning environment, incorporating the newest technologies, a learning center library, and student services that will complement academic offerings. The environment will allow students to develop their potential, and acquire the education necessary and relevant for 21st century competitiveness. The students attending AUPP are special. They have a strong desire to improve Cambodia and to make a mark on its development. They are bright; they have a mission and are drivers of change. They come from all over Cambodia, with an increasing number from countries in the region. The founder and owner through the Board of Trustees and the University, provides full scholarships for students of high intellectual capacity but with financial need. To date, thirteen students are on full tuition scholarship and one-hundred twenty (120) scholarships have been designated for 2015-2016. While the history of AUPP is short, the accomplishments are enduring and this sets AUPP on a trajectory of meeting its mission and being a model University to assist Cambodia in its human resources development. AUPP – an institution on the move.