Schools around the world have valiantly faced the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic, some, however, like The American College of Greece (ACG), have been able to stand tall and look boldly into a rapidly changing future thanks to the heroic spirit built into their institutional DNA.
ACG was founded in Smyrna in Asia Minor by United Church of Christ American missionaries in 1875. A non-profit institution, it was originally a primary and secondary school for girls. After being transplanted to Athens in 1923 it has grown into a world-class educational institution and as of 2020 has 5,774 students enrolled in all three of its divisions, Pierce, for secondary education, Deree, for undergraduate and postgraduate studies, and the Alba Graduate Business School.
The College is governed by a Board of Trustees and Dr. David G. Horner has been the president since 2008.
First addressing the COVID reality, he told The National Herald that, “after transitioning to online instruction in Spring 2020 when COVID first engulfed the world, we began the 2020-21 academic year with a mix of in-person and online instruction,” but as the pandemic progressed, another shift to online learning was required. He noted that “throughout the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years, our faculty and staff worked extremely hard and effectively to make the necessary adjustments and to keep students progressing while keeping our ACG community safe.”
Dr. Horner added that, “despite the emergence this summer of the Delta variant, the Greek government seems committed to returning as much as possible to face-to-face instruction. Reflecting this government policy framework, Pierce, our high school, and Deree, our undergraduate and graduate division, will resume face-to-face instruction this fall. Alba, our graduate business school, will blend face-to-face with selective online instruction. Based on our experience the previous two academic years, we are prepared to pivot as needed to meet whatever challenges COVID brings our way.”
Dr. Horner acknowledged that even before the pandemic higher education was undergoing a transformation, but he noted that while, “COVID has accelerated some aspects of higher education's overall transformation (i.e. adoption of online learning) it has not altered ACG's fundamental trajectory.”
He pointed out that “ACG is a unique educational institution following a unique institutional vision based on our core mission and values, which are rooted in a commitment to advance Greece and Hellenism through our connection to the U.S. education system and resources. In fact, assuming we continue to regain our pre-COVID capabilities (i.e. ability to travel), I expect ACG's momentum to increase in the near-term through the evolution of initiatives being pursued as part of the ACG 150 Strategic Plan.”
That vision includes, the MOU “recently signed with our institutional neighbor on Mt. Hymettus, the Demokritos – National Center of Scientific Research, to locate the ACG Innovation Hub on the Demokritos campus. We expect to sign another strategic MOU in the near future focused on our Center of Excellence in Sustainability – an increasingly important area for Greece, given this summer's wildfire devastation. And, we are moving to strengthen our connection to the U.S. through the establishment of The American University of Greece (AUG) in Massachusetts, which will include online degree programs for the U.S. market.”
One of ACG's many historic attractions has been its beautiful campus, and Dr. Horner was delighted to elaborate on its value for the ACG experience.
“To be sure,” he said, “ACG's main campus in Aghia Paraskevi is one of our institution's greatest assets. One of my favorite duties as president is to give campus tours because the reaction of visitors is always one of pleasure and awe. I do not expect developments in online programs to make the main campus any less important.”
Every year, he said, ACG invests in improvements to the campus. Recent investments include: the Simulated Trading Room (the first of its kind in this region of the world) and an adjoining STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) Lab at Deree; new science labs at both Pierce and Deree to support current and new science programs (i.e. Biomedical Sciences); addition of group study rooms and an expanded Events Hall in the Bailey Library; the FabLab and MakerSpace for the Pierce Innovation Academy.
“In terms of the future,” Dr. Horner told TNH, “we hope to make an announcement later this fall of a transformative campus expansion plan (details are being finalized now) to create space for substantial additions to ACG's academic programs.”
ACG's connections and cooperation with schools and institutions in the United States are of course, of paramount importance to the institution and its students.
“In my last interview with the National Herald I explained that pre-COVID (in calendar year 2019) 916 U.S. students from over 200 U.S. colleges and universities studied abroad at ACG. Beyond these relationships for receiving or sending students, we have partnerships with U.S. institutions for specific programs. For example, we work with Michigan State University to offer English exams in southern Greece and Crete (Anatolia/ACT covers northern Greece), leading to MSU English Language Certificates. With Clarkson University (Potsdam, NY) we offer a program in which students do two years of study at Deree followed by two years at Clarkson (at Deree equivalent tuition), earning degrees in: Aeronautical Engineering, Biology, Biomolecular Science, Chemistry, Mechanical Engineering, Engineering, and Management.”
ACG also works with other types of organizations to fulfill ACG's mission and vision. “We partner with the National Hellenic Society (NHS) on its Heritage Greece program to provide young Greek-Americans an enriching cultural immersion experience in Greece. We partner with The Hellenic Initiative (THI) on VentureGarden to identify and mentor entrepreneurial start-ups in southern Greece (again Anatolia/ACT covers northern Greece), and since 2017 we have supported 48 start-ups. We also partner with the Behrakis Foundation to reduce tobacco consumption in Greece, especially among young people.”
He also noted that “we see these cooperative efforts as having enormous potential to add value to Greece and Hellenism… the seed planted in Smyrna in 1875 by ACG's missionary women founders from Massachusetts has yielded a resilient institution that continues to adapt to changing circumstances, carrying out our founders' vision of personal and social transformation through education.”
Dr. Horner's message to Hellenes and Philhellenes in the United States is that, “I would encourage Greek-Americans to consider Deree and Alba as they plan their children's and grandchildren's futures – both schools represent remarkable educational quality and value that more and more U.S. students are selecting for study abroad or full degree programs.”
He also emphasized to those who are excited about the endeavor to build a New Greece after the financial crisis that “philanthropic investment in ACG can yield enormous returns; specifically, I would encourage them to seriously consider supporting ACG 150ïFutureproof Greece, our fundraising campaign to raise $75 million by 2025 to fund the College's strategic priorities and positively impact Greece.”
Finally, Dr. Horner invites Greek-Americans to visit ACG the next time they come to Greece. “It would be my privilege to give them a personal tour so they can see firsthand the work that is being done and learn more about our plans for the future.”