Gulf Insider speaks with newly appointed President of the American University of Bahrain, Dr. Bradley J. Cook.
Succeeding Dr. Susan E. Saxton, the Founding President of the American University of Bahrain (AUBH), Dr. Bradley J. Cook joined the University in the summer of 2022. He has over thirty years of distinguished experience in higher education across the US and the Middle East. We reached out to learn more about his plans as he takes up his new role, his definition of leadership as related to education, his greatest achievements, and more.
What are your primary focus areas as you take up this new role?
I am thrilled to join AUBH and the wide array of potential I can see within the University. During my years of experience in higher education, I have worked with numerous practical institutions to better understand and analyse the needs of the marketplace. Being connected to the industry is crucial to supporting AUBH in developing a caliber of graduates with world-class education who possess the essential skillsets required to thrive in the practical environment. This will in turn drive the growth of the Kingdom’s economy.
As I take up the new role, I am currently focused on the following: firstly, leading AUBH in seeking US institutional accreditation. We are engaged and have achieved eligibility in seeking accreditation with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WSCUC), a first for higher education in Bahrain.
Secondly, optimising our recently forged academic partnership with California State University, Northridge (CSUN), based in Los Angeles. What we established through this academic partnership is the opportunity for AUBH students to begin their university journey here in Bahrain with access to a pathway to continue their education at CSUN, which has a diverse and large portfolio of programs and a student-centric environment.
Our portfolio of partnerships with several entities and organisations in both the private and public sectors is rich and diverse. We are looking forward to strengthening those and at the same time expanding our national and international reach. These partnerships and relationships will help us improve our caliber of graduates as well as develop our academic programs in line with the ever-changing needs of the workforce.
Lastly, working on a future programmatic approach to raise the profile of AUBH. This is one of my focus areas to add value to the students’ experience here on campus, and highlight the academic quality of our education and the social well-being of the AUBH Community.
In 2020, you were identified as one of the “most visionary education leaders” by Education Magazine. What is your vision for AUBH for the next few years?
As the first American-style University in the Kingdom, we envision the campus to be a place of learning both in mind and body with students participating in both individual and team sports.
I envision AUBH to be a global destination that feels like home for all learners. One of the hallmarks of American-style education is peer learning, which is one of our differentiators here at AUBH. With a dynamic campus alive with dazzling events all around the year, AUBH is more than just a university, it is a community bonded with the “culture of care.”
In addition, inclusive learning for all profile learners is on the top of my list, stressing on the importance of developing learning communities and valuing members’ diversity, while strengthening the bond between all members of the AUBH Community.
What is your definition of leadership as related to education?
The essential bedrock of successful leadership is creating a shared purpose and getting everyone on the team to embody that vision and articulation. This applies to all sectors, and much more specifically when we speak about higher education. Leaders who can elevate their academic communities are in high demand, but it really takes the right combination of passion, experience, and education for leaders to succeed.
For long-term success, a leader should be able to lead, facilitate, coach, and show up for his team members. Working hand in hand to achieve a common goal and perspective, and understanding the importance of building a collaborative and inclusive community is at the forefront of good leadership in education.
If you could, what is one change you would make to higher education today?
Creating a positive change in higher education today in my own words means creating more meaningful connections with students in a way that works best for them. Understanding the students’ perspectives and trying to reach a common ground is salient, especially in these times.
I would like educators to explore and be open to different modalities and methods of learning to cater to different profiles of learners, which includes the graduates, who do not necessarily have the time to dedicate as much as undergraduates. Embracing online experience and creating options for lifelong learners is one of the things I am most passionate about.
What has been your greatest achievement thus far in your many years as a higher education leader?
Record-breaking growing enrollments and graduations. Celebrating students’ success and being on the ground engaging with the student and staff culture helped achieve those great records. Working on a distinct and strong internalisation agenda and diversification of the student community as well has been one of my greatest achievements.
Finally, what is your personal motto for success?
Lead with integrity, collaboration, and a laser-focused vision. Be brave, imaginative, creative, and innovative.
Delving deeper, I think the two arms crucial to success in any environment are safety and a sense of belonging.
A safe environment is a prerequisite for studying successfully. We are continually endeavoring to create a climate that is conducive to interactive healthy learning. At the same time, we work with all efforts to help the AUBH Community, whilst keeping the students at the center of our enterprise, to help them always feel connected. This sense of belonging motivates students and gives them more academic self-confidence, higher levels of academic engagement, and overall higher achievement in several aspects of life.
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