GoAbroad Interview

Franco Pavoncello - University President

Franco Pavoncello - University President

Founded in 1972, John Cabot University has been offering undergraduate degrees and study abroad programs to students from all over the world for decades. Located in the heart of Italy, John Cabot provides students with international experiences far beyond academics. Since 1996, Franco Pavoncello has played a key role in the university’s development.

Franco currently serves as the President of John Cabot University located in the Rome, Italy. He has been a member of the faculty at John Cabot University since 1990, where he served as Dean of Academic Affairs from 1999 to 2005 while continuing to lecture in Political Science. Franco earned his B.A. in International Relations and Chinese and Japanese Studies (summa cum laude) from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and obtained a M.A and Ph. d. from the University of Michigan in Political Science.

A leading analyst of Italian politics, his work has appeared in, among others, the American Political Science Review, the British Journal of Political Science, and Asian Studies. He is also a well-known media commentator on Italian affairs, a contributor to major international newspapers, and appears regularly on radio and television networks.

The Colosseum in the centre of the city of Rome, Italy.
The Colosseum in the centre of the city of Rome, Italy. 
Photo by Troy Peden

You have been part of the University’s administrative body since 1996.  What has been your greatest accomplishment as President?

It has been an exciting journey to build a growing University. As President I believe that my greatest accomplishments were, in order:

a. Building a strong academic environment together with my VP of Academic Affairs, Dr. Mary Merva, CFA, enlarging the number of academic majors (BA) to 13 and constantly improving the quality of our academic offerings and the excellence of our Faculty. That is the pillar upon which the success of John Cabot University is built;

b. Increasing student enrolment, doubling total enrolment in seven years, and tripling DS (degree-seeking) enrolment in five years;

c. Successfully securing re-accreditation for the University with the Middles States Association of Higher Education;

d. Expanding the premises of JCU, securing a new magnificent building, the Tiber Campus, on the banks of the Tiber River, offering a Student Center and a Cafeteria that have quickly become the heart of student life, expanding the studio arts facilities and creating a digital media lab, as well as securing two beautiful residences, with 350 beds;

e. Internationalizing the student body;

f. Expanding the scholarly activities of the University. In particular we created centers of academic excellence, like the Guarini Institute of Public Affairs, the Institute for Creative Writing and the Summer Institute of International Communications, that have all acquired a globally renowned reputation.

John Cabot is an American university in the heart of Rome, which aims to provide an exceptional experience based on American traditions while at the same time immersing students in Italian culture. What is one of the strongest ways JCU programs achieve this mission?

We achieve this in many ways. We are located in Trastevere, in the heart of Rome, and we expose students to the wealth of Italian art, history, language, and culture. We bring students in contact with Italian society and give them an opportunity to immerse themselves in the exceptional wealth of the Eternal City. We also provide many internship opportunities with companies and organizations, both Italian and international, and this is a great opportunity for both foreign and local students.

How does John Cabot prepare and support first-time participants of your programs and students in general, to ensure they are successful? 

We offer intensive preparatory English courses to bring students to an adequate academic level as far as language is concerned. We also have many tutoring labs, in Italian, English writing, and Mathematics, allowing students to fill in their learning gaps. We also have a freshman program in place to acclimate new students to the spirit of the school. We have also put in place a wider variety of extra-curricular activities, from sports to student clubs and other initiatives that create a sense of community and belonging for our students.

What are the advantages of participating in John Cabot’s study abroad programs as opposed to other programs through different universities or providers?

This is an important question. When students venture on a study abroad experience they are faced with a fundamental tension. They must create the right context in order to absorb their new environment. By that I mean that if students go to a study abroad program that only has students from a single university they will tend to find themselves in an island program, isolated and removed from the environment around them. If, on the other hand, they go to local universities - with the hurdle of organizational and linguistic obstacles - then they will feel too detached and isolated and will not be able to maximize the potentialities of their experience.

So, the answer lies in the golden mean, in creating an environment which is foreign while at the same time familiar, with rules and language which are known, but at the same an environment that is deeply rooted in a foreign experience, with faculty, staff and students from all over the world, and a deep understanding of local culture and society.

The university promotion videos show very happy, satisfied students. How does the university continue to satisfy and please students from all over the world?

We are a world class liberal arts university, rooted in the American educational tradition and dedicated to the success and well being of our students, wherever they may come from. We are a community with the mission of forming outstanding human beings with great skills and a deep sense of empathy and commitment to the world around them.

We are transparent in our mission and students sense that. We consistently strive for excellence and the stakeholders are all participating in this exciting journey together. Providing the proper intellectual and human environment to allow the city of Rome and the tradition of American liberal arts to exercise their influence on a young person’s development can be truly exhilarating for all those involved.

In those same videos, students say that John Cabot professors are very friendly and down to earth. You were once a member of the faculty, what are professor-student relationships like in your opinion?

At JCU professors and students are partners. They are fellow travelers in a journey of discovery. The quality of our professors is truly impressive and that is transmitted to the students, who feel the personal commitment of each faculty to their success. The students know that if they study hard they will be rewarded in their graduate studies or in their careers, because they are being formed by outstanding teachers. This is very important in creating a strong mutual bond of trust and respect between the faculty and students of JCU.

Most of JCU’s graduates are either being accepted into the world’s best graduate schools or offered good jobs at international corporations. What type of post-program/degree services does the university offer to foster such significant successes?

Our Career Services Office has quickly become, under the leadership of Dott. Antonella Salvatore, a truly outstanding asset of JCU. We have 260 companies and organizations that offer internships to our students and our Career Fair is very well attended. Many of our students find jobs right then and there.

I must also say that the quality of our students and the prestige of our faculty insures that other universities pay great attention to letters of recommendation for our top students and the most prestigious universities in the world are starting to show great interest in admitting our graduates to their postgraduate studies.  (This year, for instance, three of our graduates entered Oxford University).

One of John Cabot University’s goals is “to provide a campus environment that encourages sensitivity to the diverse ethnic and cultural origins of members of the university community.” What does the university do in order to achieve this goal?

We have innumerable initiatives in this area. We have many clubs and organizations devoted to helping minorities and focusing on areas of poverty and difficulty worldwide. The student group STAND, for instance, fundraises for many initiatives in Africa. We also promote student activities with social interest organizations assisting immigrants and the less fortunate throughout the local community. We are constantly welcoming initiatives to present the various cultures of our student body with specific ethnic dinners and presentations and the atmosphere at JCU is pervaded by a sense of dialogue and respect that, I would say, is one of the fundamental features of John Cabot University.

How many international students attend John Cabot University on average?

Besides US and Italian students, we have roughly 250 students coming from more than 60 countries around the word, with strong contingents from former Soviet Union countries and the Middle East.

JCU is part of an organization of American universities around the world. What sets John Cabot apart from its counterparts in the Association of American International Colleges and Universities?

AAICU (American Association of International Colleges and Universities) is a great organization that promotes the study of the American liberal arts abroad. It includes true giants, like the American University of Cairo and the American University of Beirut, together with smaller - albeit equally prestigious - realities, like the American University of Paris and John Cabot University.

JCU is one of the medium size universities in the organization, and what sets it apart is that we have two strong contingents of study abroad and degree seeking students, while many other schools tend to concentrate upon only one or the other. We believe that this mix is truly one of the dynamic features of the University and an asset in trying to stimulate dialogue among global youth.

What plans do you have for the university in the next two years? Can we expect any new programs?

We have quite a few plans. We plan to offer an M.A. in Art History starting in Fall 2015 and to significantly strengthen the visual communications part of our Communications major. We are also negotiating some important partnership with first class U.S. institutions for offering joint programs at JCU.

John Cabot University is in a very dynamic moment of its history. Students feel this and our enrolment is expanding constantly and consistently. In a way this is just the beginning of an exciting journey of excellence for us, as we strive to establish our beloved school as one of the leading liberal arts universities in the world.