Roman Sheremeta, founding director of American University Kyiv: “Our mission is to be the catalyst of change”

Roman Sheremeta is a Ukrainian American Associate Professor of Economics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, who was born in Ukraine in 1982 and lived in the country until 2004. Roman moved to the U.S. to get his Ph.D. from Purdue University in Indiana. 

Being one of the brightest minds on the global economic science scene and the most cited Ukrainian economist in the world, Roman accepted a position as the founding director of American University Kyiv – the first university in Ukraine to teach students by the American model, partnered with Arizona State University. 

In these challenging times, in the light of the enduring Russian threat and amidst the darkness, Roman became the changemaker and visionary who embodied the striving dream of all Ukrainians – to be intelligent, successful, free, open-minded, and to drive innovations. the driving force of innovations.

Roman and the team of the American University Kyiv has a mission: to train leaders, address societal changes through research and corroboration, and be a catalyst for the transformation in Ukraine. Let’s discover how the project began, the uniqueness of the system,  the future students, and the tech programs that will be presented.

TechUkraine: You are one of the most cited Ukrainian economists globally; why did you decide to join the initiative and become the founding rector of American University Kyiv?

Roman Sheremeta: Before moving to the USA, I graduated from two Ukrainian universities, and then I got my Master’s degree in Kyiv. But obviously, there weren’t programs for behavioral economics or experimental economics. That’s what I wanted to do. So, as a result, I moved to the USA.

I was exposed to the American education system, which was incredible and very different from the Ukrainian system. I was blessed to work with some of the best people in the world, where I got my Ph.D., and eventually, I graduated and became very successful in my sphere.

And that time, I always had a dream that I would be able to do the same in Ukraine one day. I will be able to give an opportunity or create an opportunity to students to provide the same sort of quality education in Ukraine – the one that I got in the US, the education that gave me success in my career. I want it for Ukrainian students.

So I was looking for some sort of opportunities, but they never came alone.

In modern Ukrainian history, since independence, this project came alone when American University Kyiv approached me and said, “Roman, you have an opportunity to do this.”

And I was sold. My dream came true, and that is really what I want to do. That’s one reason why I’m here.

The second thing is that I want to do this project. I want this University to be a catalyst for change of the higher education system in Ukraine.

Because I have seen how Ukrainian universities have been built and I have seen how American universities are built, I worked in both systems and started in another system.

I really believe that the American education system is the best in the world. It is an objective measure because The World’s Top 100 Universities are American universities; they dominate the ratings. They are objectively incredible institutions. 

Basically, I want it for us to be inspired by that model. An American University Kyiv was the way to do that: to serve as the catalyst and inspiration for the other universities.

And the third reason was I wanted to make sure it will be a very stable and serious University. The American University Kyiv has a solid financial model and strong industry partners. It has a partnership with Arizona State University, one of the best universities in the USA. And because of these, I knew it would be a high-quality true American standard university.

And these three reasons prompted me to move to Ukraine.

TechUkraine: When and how was the idea of the university born? What’s the mission and ambition of AUK?

Roman Sheremeta: The idea of University was born quite a few years ago, 3-4 years ago.

Three years ago, the founding partners of the University traveled to the United States and looked for partners. Some universities were considered: Carnegie Mellon, Stanford University, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, which is actually my University, and where we met with a team for the first time in the USA.

I didn’t even know that I was interviewed for this position. And that was the same team that helped in opening the American University Kyiv. 

Because if you know how the interview process works: you hire an independent agency that gives you a list of people who are the best fit for your position, for the executive roles, and that’s how that process happens.

When I came to the very end, I realized, wow! It’s the same team that I met three years ago. This is incredible.

A team of visionaries includes Kurt Walker, Oleksii Shershnyov, Mamuka Tsareshvili, and Carlo Guginawa. These four gentlemen were in the beginning. They found the companies who joined; they got to Arizona State University, got Santana education, and altogether had financial capital, the visionaries, and a solid educational component and were able to open up the University.

I came alone. I believe in the vision; I believe in a team too.

As far as the mission goes, me, Rick Shangraw and our team were working specifically on what will be a mission of AUK.

Our mission statement right now is:

  1. to educate the leaders of the future,
  2. address the societal changes through research and corroboration, 
  3. and act as a catalyst for transforming the educational system of Ukraine. 

TechUkraine: Powered by Arizona State University, what’s the unique model of this type of higher education?

Roman Sheremeta: According to US News & World Report, Arizona State University has been ranked number one innovative university in the USA for the past seven years in a row. It’s ahead of MIT, Harvard, Stanford –  all the best schools.

And the reason was that they were able to adapt to the modern demands of education. Right now, they have 140,000 students: 70,000 of them are on campus, 70,000 are online.

Arizona State University was able to build a very strong online educational system and make it accessible to as many people as possible. 

That was a model they wanted to provide high-quality education to as many students as possible.

Because if you look at top universities like Harvard, Stanford they are very select, for the top, for the brightest.

  1. Arizona State University has this model: we want to give the same quality education but to as too many people as possible. That’s why for us, ASU was a perfect partner because they want to scale with us and build this University. So Arizona was a perfect partner. 
  2. Besides Arizona, what makes the AUK unique is our commitment to American standards that are helped by ASU – the support by stakeholders. Because it’s the University built on a collaboration of visionaries, investors, a lot of people came alone to build it. It’s important because it’s not just one man’s project. It’s a project where many stakeholders are involved.
  3. It’s a university that works very closely with industry partners, who actually help us design the curriculum. We have a clear path for dual degrees: the UA and Arizona State University degrees. 
  4. We have international faculty. Many of them are actually Ukrainian births who went to the States to get Ph.D. or doctoral degrees in the States or come back to Europe. We are going to have international faculty. 

These main features make our University unique and very special in Ukraine.

TechUkraine: What about blockchain solutions for education?

Roman Sheremeta: It’s not a blockchain solution. Basically, we are going digital. Arizona University is very digitally oriented. 

You will understand that we bring the learning management systems, the information student systems, and everything into the digital. The whole educational journey for the next four or five years is going to be digital: through computers, systems, through canvas, through other things, we will be available for our students. It’s not only Zoom or recording the video. 

It’s a high-quality product built using IT. It’s a very significant online component where the students will get an education through IT solutions.

When we get to medical or engineering schools, we will use some virtual reality solutions from those spheres in the AUK. For example, when you do surgery, you’re using VR Glasses. Instead of going and having all the cadavers (corpses), which is also an important part, still, you can actually start practicing in a VR setting and put on a helmet so you can literally do the surgery. As well as, you can take classes in biology.

This is what Arizona is known for, which is a part of our University.

Our motto: Digital – first!

TechUkraine: Who are the driving team and supporters of AUK?

Roman Sheremeta: We have six industry strategic partners: EPAM, DTEK Academy, Brain, BGV investment company, two companies from Georgia, Georgian University, Arizona State University, Santana education.

Fully financial is the six partners but in general we have more than that.

TechUkraine: AUK will be based in the building of River Port. Is it already renovated and ready to meet the first students?

Roman Sheremeta: We are finishing all of the final touches of the building. The building will be ready to open up in March. But it’s going to be a part of the building.

Hopefully, the full building will be open up by the beginning of June.

It’s an incredible place to start university. I gave lectures in over 100 universities around the globe in more than 20 countries: MIT, Tokyo, Australia, etc. And I’ll tell you where we have the best campus I have been to. 

It’s a university with a view. The River Port will be our first building. But then we are planning and in talks with the UNIT.City. And that is where we plan to build our second campus, and yes, we are developing and excited about this.

TechUkraine: Stay in Kyiv or go countrywide?

Roman Sheremeta: It’s a good question. We have not said that we have our final strategy yet. We are not agreed on what we are going to do.

Remember I said Arizona State University has a powerful online component. So we might adopt that form as well, and I will try to reach as many students as possible. That may allow us both to drive down the price of education and spread, give access to as many students as possible, and we might go to smaller cities around the country.

Maybe the model would be for that, but it’s speculation on the stage because we have not agreed on the plan.

We have a strong online component, and then it will be a small campus where the full-time faculty in Kyiv or maybe elsewhere (let’s say in Lviv) will be able to run the school there. But anyway, the faculty will be able to come, teach there and come back to Kyiv.

You have to understand that having fully international faculty is crucial for high-quality education. So it’s not easy, trust me, to find somebody who speaks fluent English, has significant international experience, and is a great researcher. And it’s not easy to find, and it might be difficult for us to just open up another campus and bring another faculty.

We need to discuss how this model would work. But with a significant online component, I think it’s possible.

TechUkraine: The university will provide education in English with renowned professors who are recognized in world rankings and include Fulbright Fellows and other winners of prestigious European and American awards. How do you select the lectors for the programs?

Roman Sheremeta: This is a great question. I have specific procedures that  I always follow when interviewing teachers, professors, lectors, researchers.

  1. First of all, because we are an American University, English has to be at the proper level. They have to be close to fluent in English.
  2. The second thing I look for is an international experience. So I have faculty that come from the Netherlands, from the States, from other countries in Europe. Those are foreigners, they don’t speak Ukrainian, but it’s not the majority. The majority are people who have Ukrainian roots, but they have significant international experience: they got the Ph.D. overseas, or they are taught at American, European, or Asia universities around the world. And that’s the second criteria – international experience.
  3. And the third, they have to have solid researchers. A full-time faculty needs to have a research component. We don’t just transfer the knowledge – we produce the knowledge. That’s two different pieces: transfer the knowledge, yes, anybody can transfer the knowledge, but you need to produce knowledge. And who would be the best to transfer the knowledge? Those who actually produce it. So that is an important piece.

TechUkraine: AUK announced the programs in the areas of IT and business management. Could you tell us more about it? First of all, Master’s degrees in Global Management and Software Engineering.

Roman Sheremeta: We are opening two schools when we started: the School of business administration and the School of digital technologies. It’s an IT and business school. The two programs are coming out first in March: 

  1. The Master’s of Global Management built with the Thunderbird School of the Arizona State University, and their Master’s of Global Management is number one in the world. It’s the best program in global management in the world, and we build the same program with them here in Kyiv. The Director of this program is Marc Viger. He is truly an international citizen; he speaks nine languages fluently and speaks other languages in addition to that. You start to talk to him, and he switches easily. He is now almost fluent in Ukrainian. We want to make sure that our faculties are global citizens who deliver a global management degree. 
  2. The second degree in digital technologies is a Master’s of Software Engineering. We’re building a degree in close collaboration with EPAM. They are helping us to make it very practical. 

In September 2022, we’re going to bring three more degrees to business schools: 

  • Master’s of Business Analytics – Tech and business together,
  • Bachelor’s of Business Administration, 
  • Bachelor’s of Global Management. 

In a school of digital technology, we will bring an additional two Bachelor’s degrees: Bachelor’s in Software Engineering and Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering. There are two main directions usually that the IT field is built on: one on software development (coding, etc.); another one is computer engineering in computer systems, algorithms, and so on.

TechUkraine: AUK will offer undergraduate, graduate, and lifelong learning programs. What kind of students do you try to attract?

Roman Sheremeta: The students we want to attract are motivated and have a high level of proficiency in English.

Here in Kyiv, you have an opportunity to get really good at English. So we could start with you if your English is not so good. We can start working with you; we can give you additional courses, we will work with students to bring them to do that level. You should understand that they will become very proficient in English through the whole educational process. It’s another value proposition of graduation – you will be fluent in English, a true global citizen, and English will be your main language. That’s my first requirement.

The second thing that I want is to have obviously high-quality students who are motivated, want to accomplish great things in their life, who are visionaries.

And not necessarily, maybe they don’t have such an excellent education; they come from peripheral villages or cities. Still, when you give them the opportunity of education, they will get fantastic results for all of their life. I believe they will do great, and they will be our students.

We try to establish scholarship programs. I already have some people and companies who agreed to pay for the scholarships for students like that.

The third category is that I want to make sure that our students will have ambitions. They are the future; they can be leaders; they can be changers of Ukraine, of our society. I want to attract those sorts of students. 

And I want to create a think tank for them. Yes, It’s our plan; it’s our mission.

I said in the beginning that our mission is to create leaders who want to be creators of Ukraine and for a global level.

Thanks, Tatiana Morozova Skydan and Anna Lysiuk for your support!

Soon, we’ll present the podcast with Roman Sheremeta within Mayak Innovatsiy and even more – stay tuned!

Keep calm and carry on!

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