It was a dream of Dr. Chea Vandeth that spawned the American University of Phnom Penh. A foreign educated Cambodian scholar, Dr Vandeth had a vision for a high quality education institution in Cambodia. It took 10 years to find a partner institution in the United States to collaborate with.
In 2011 Dr. Vandeth, through Dr. Kem Reat Viseth, met Professor Kenneth Dunn, a Fulbright Scholar to Cambodia. Together, the two of them conceptualized a new university that would meet international standards and rise above Cambodian universities as a best practice model.
Professor Dunn returned to the United States and met with the President of Middlesex Community College to discuss a proposal to assist in establishing an American model of education in Cambodia. The President embraced the opportunity with enthusiasm. A developmental team was established with the charge of developing a curriculum and supportive administrative structure. In May of 2013, Professor Dunn organized a fact-finding group of educators and business leaders from Massachusetts to assess Cambodia’s educational environment and the status of potential high school students. Their fact-finding mission found that generally, Cambodian students did not have sufficient English fluency to successfully undertake collegiate programs delivered in English. To compensate for this, the team developed a one semester English Preparatory 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.
Subsequent to the May 2013 fact-finding mission, the founders’ dream came true when the American University of Phnom Penh (AUPP) began operations in an aesthetically pleasing temporary facility in Toul Kork. A key feature was a 1+1 partnership agreement with the Middlesex Community College in Lowell. AUPP was grounded in five guiding principles:
- AUPP was organized with the mission of contributing to the human resource development of Cambodia.
- 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. or international accredited institutions, along with teaching experience in U.S. or international accredited 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 that consisted 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 has now been revised to read “AUPP partners 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, the International Advisory Board worked with the Board of Trustees to recruit and appoint a President. In the interim, a temporary President, an American with legal background who was fluent in Khmer, was appointed in May, 2013. She held the reigns for a short period from May through October 2013. She was succeeded by Dr. Armitage (an international consultant in higher education) and Professor Dunn (Middlesex Community College) who, as a team, took over the reins as Acting President until a new President could be appointed. They served from November, 2013 through June, 2014.
In March 2014, the Founders, along with Dr. Armitage and influential 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. The purpose of the visit was to develop a deeper appreciation for the American style of education and to explore partnership potentials.
As a result of the March 2014 visit, AUPP established a 2+2 transfer agreement with the University of Massachusetts Lowell. This expanded student options 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. In 2016, AUPP further expanded student options by entering into a dual degree partnership with Fort Hays State University.
AUPP’s first President, Dr. Sharon Siverts, was appointed in July 2014. Due to family health reasons Dr. Siverts resigned in December 2015.
The AUPP Board of Trustees’ membership was adjusted in January 2016. Three members of the Board retired, and three replacements were appointed.
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 institution in Cambodia, fostering socially responsible behavior, life-long learning, academic and professional excellence among students; producing students who are critical thinkers, innovators and ethical leaders to serve Cambodia and the ASEAN Economic Community.
A new campus site has been acquired and architectural drawings for new facilities completed. Construction began in August 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.
AUPP students are special. They have a strong desire to improve Cambodia and to make contributions of significance to its development. They are bright; they have a mission and are drivers of positive change. They come from all over Cambodia, with an increasing number from Southeast Asia. The founder and owner, through the Board of Trustees and the University provide full scholarships for students of high intellectual capacity but with financial need. To date, half of the students are on scholarship and others are paying students.
While the history of AUPP is short, the accomplishments are enduring. 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.
Accreditation in Cambodia is granted by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. The Ministry has developed the Accrediting Committee of Cambodia (ACC) to carry out this function. AUPP has set a goal of being among the first privately funded institutions in Cambodia to be accredited by this body.
In addition, AUPP is committed to obtaining U.S. accreditation through one of the regional accrediting commissions.
AUPP’s senior management is composed of the President, the Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs (VPASA), and the Vice President for Finance and Administration (VPFA). The University has a commitment to train Cambodians so that they have the appropriate education and experience to assume various administrative posts; however, the senior management will be primarily Americans with U.S. accredited terminal degrees, and with U.S. and international experience.
The current faculty of AUPP is primarily Americans with U.S and often international university-level teaching experience. Collegiate faculty members have doctorates in their respective disciplines and English preparatory program faculty members have TESOL or equivalent degrees. The faculty members have been trained in interactive and collaborative pedagogy that engages students in their own learning, thus making learning more meaningful to the students. AUPP faculty is committed to students and their education, working to equip them with the requisite skills for a competitive, global marketplace.
The AUPP Library supports the scholarly activity of students, faculty, and researchers with continuous improvement of its information resources, and a comfortable place for study and research. The Library staff assists library users with information literacy and with information searches, acquires materials to advance scholarship and develop the best possible print and online collections, and maintains an excellent new modern and comfortable study environment that is available for the campus community.
- Location and Facilities
AUPP is located in a temporary facility in Toul Kork, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The current building has purpose-focused classrooms, science and computer labs, a library, writing center, and offices for faculty and staff.
A planned new building will serve up to 4000 students in the near future. Construction began in 2015 with a projected occupancy in late 2017. The new facility will have a state-of-the-art educational design. Additional educational space, sport facilities, and student housing will complement the academic space.
AUPP is in partnership with American universities where there is common purpose and mutual benefit.
AUPP also partners with Fort Hays State University to offer dual degree programs. Currently, AUPP also has collaborative projects and programs, such as with Ohio University on global leadership. The University considers it important to establish partnerships with other universities, both in the US and internationally, and to develop partnerships with various businesses, NGOs, governments, and other public and private organizations to support and enhance the education of students.
In addition, the following statement describes the partnership with the U.S. Embassy: “AUPP partners with the US Embassy in Cambodia to enhance the academic, professional, and social opportunities for AUPP students.”
AUPP is committed to recruiting highly motivated, talented students. Students attending AUPP need to be well versed in the English language as all classes are taught in English. The University seeks students who demonstrate strong academic abilities, have a curiosity to learn, possess an entrepreneurial spirit, and have a commitment to serve Cambodian society, the region and the world.
- Learning Center
The University’s learning center works to make all students who visit it into stronger, more confident, and more independent thinkers. The learning center offers tutorials to students in all years of study, in a friendly, informal environment. Tutorials are conducted in a one-on-one setting in order to address each student’s unique needs and goals. Depending on the needs and concerns of the individual student, these tutoring sessions may include discussing and brainstorming questions and topics, setting up research and writing schedules, strategizing possible academic paper structures, work shopping written drafts, and practicing effective learning strategies.
In addition to one-on-one appointments, the learning center also offers research, writing, and revision workshops for larger groups of students as well as targeted workshops on topics that are in particular demand. One-on-one appointments are offered on one-time, weekly, and drop-in bases. Workshop and appointment schedules and sign-up sheets are posted at the learning center and may also be accessed online.