Franco Pavoncello, President of John Cabot University

March 01, 2021 9:57 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

(This interview begins a series of spotlighting Friends of AWAR. John Cabot University is a Platinum Member of AWAR.) 

What are some of the biggest challenges facing John Cabot University now?
The biggest challenges we are facing today are the same as those of other schools: keeping our operations going during the pandemic, which forced us to move our education online last spring. This called for a massive move to remote teaching, which normally John Cabot University does not offer. Thanks to our great Faculty and Staff we were able to make that move successfully.

Tell us something about JCU that we may not know.

You might be surprised to learn that John Cabot University, an overseas American University, is one of the leading Italian Cultural Centers in the world. In the last decade about 20,000 students have been exposed to the language and culture of Italy while studying at JCU, and have learned to love the country and its capital. Probably less surprising but still worth noting, the Frohring Library at JCU has one of the largest collections of academic publications in English in Italy.

What is the student mix at JCU?

John Cabot University has a rather unique model which mixes, in more or less equal numbers, degree-seeking students from all over the world, with visiting US students, both freshmen and more advanced, who spend one semester studying in Rome at JCU. The pandemic has practically led to a screeching halt the number of US visiting students. We are confident that, once we put Covid 19 behind us, we will be once again at full capacity.

What creative ideas have you implemented to attract new students?

For the past two decades, John Cabot University has been on a trajectory of expansion in all the areas of its operations which has made our university increasingly attractive to prospective students. Among the many areas of growth the following are noteworthy: First, we have three campuses and two student residences in the marvelous Trastevere area. Second, there are 35 outstanding full time Faculty members who together with our Adjunct Faculty provide a first-class educational experience. Third, we have the new Frank J. Guarini Business School, the Institute of Entrepreneurship, and the Institute for Future and Innovation Studies. And lastly we expanded the Career and Internships Office. In addition to these important developments, we offer many extra-curricular opportunities to our students, both on campus and in the form of organized travels to the most important Italian and European cities.

Can you share a brief snippet of your career or some of the things that you are proud of?

I was born in Rome, and I spent the first 20 years of my life in this city, in a typical Italian family, attending Italian public schools. After a brief stint at the University of Rome, I decided to continue my studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I graduated with a double degree in International Affairs and Chinese Studies. After my B.A. I continued my graduate studies at the University of Michigan, where I received an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science. I lived in the United States for 10 years, eight years in Ann Arbor and two years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a research associate. During my tenure as Dean first and then as President, the University has grown from 150 students in 1996 to roughly 1,400 in 2019 (pre-Covid numbers), becoming regionally accredited and acquiring a reputation as an outstanding liberal arts university. The marvelous community we have built at JCU over the years is certainly a source of great pride and joy for me.

Can you share with us a few reasons why JCU is an AWAR Sustaining Member?

JCU’s relationship with AWAR goes back many years. Our university has long recognized the potential of women and their role in society, and appreciates the opportunity to strengthen the common threads of promoting educational, cultural, and social exchange within the context of American values and ideals.

JCU’s activities, including lectures, events, and community service, are significant complements to our academic programs, and we have often collaborated with AWAR  to inform and enrich our students, faculty, and friends. JCU study abroad students are usually newcomers to Rome and face challenges similar to those encountered by new AWAR members.

JCU’s Women’s Leadership Initiative group has organized panel discussions such as “Far from Equal: The Gender Gap in the Workplace,” and our Community Service Program encourages civic engagement by offering students the opportunity to play a vibrant role on and off campus by helping those in need.  As you can see, we share many common goals, and our partnership continues to be exciting and productive for both of our organizations.

What can you tell us about JCU’s American connection?

John Cabot University is an overseas American university, and deeply intertwined with the United States. Our Board of Trustees is composed of the majority by American citizens, most of them living in the States. We are located in Trastevere, but entering the University really means stepping into an American style environment, with English serving as the main medium of communication. As mentioned above, half of our students are American, and almost a quarter of our professors and staff members are also American.

What word is your power word?

Trust.  If you do not inspire trust, you cannot lead.

What are you most grateful for?

My family, my years as an administrator at John Cabot University, and having met outstanding academic intellectuals, who have given me great gifts and taught me a great deal.

What advice would you give to future generations?

First of all, do not lie to yourself. Be true to what you really want and what you do not want, and be compassionate, as compassion is the best food for the soul. Second, I would also encourage future generations to be life-long learners and never stop exploring new things. The world is in a period of exponential technological transformation, and remaining updated on the changes upon us is an imperative for our young people.

What is your favorite memory living in Rome?

As a Roman, I have many fond memories of my life here. Probably those that left a lasting memory are the birth of my first daughter, my meeting with Pope John Paul II, and, perhaps less important but still truly memorable, being present at the Olympic Stadium watching the AS Roma soccer team win the Italian Championship.

Who was your biggest inspiration in your life and why?

My father. He had a good mind and a good heart. I learned a lot from him.

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