Professor Abdullah Yavaş is not someone who rests on his laurels.
Sure, he has quite a few accomplishments under his belt. He enjoys an excellent reputation as a professor of real estate and urban land economics in the Wisconsin School of Business' Department of Real Estate. Internationally, he is a leading economist, and remains an influential member of the Central Bank of Turkey's Monetary Policy Committee.
But he recently completed an ambitious project: helping lay the groundwork for a new educational institution - the Antalya International University in Antalya, Turkey.
What motivated him to undertake this demanding endeavor?
"It was the challenging nature of the job that attracted me, and I knew it would be an invaluable experience," says Yavaş. Indeed, he learned a great deal from his time in Antalya, which lasted from January 2011 to January 2012.
As a scenic, historic resort city on the Mediterranean that attracts millions of visitors from around the world each year, Antalya is an ideal location for an international university. The idea for establishing Antalya International University originated with local businesses that were determined to create a leading regional institution of higher education serving Turkey, as well as Central Asia, Russia, the Middle East, North Africa and Southeastern Europe. Offering both undergraduate and graduate programs, the university is comprised of four colleges in the fields of business, law, engineering and tourism. Initially, AIU will offer bachelor's degrees and selected master's degrees (Master of Business Administration, Executive MBA, Tourism MBA, and Master of Science in Construction Engineering), and eventually will offer doctoral degrees.
Above all, it is geared toward students wishing to receive a challenging university education from established academicians in an engaging, multicultural environment. Currently under construction, the campus includes academic buildings, a library and dormitories, as well as a gymnasium, soccer stadium and tennis courts. The first cohort of students will be admitted in the fall of 2012.
Upon Yavaş' arrival last year, his first priority was to recruit deans and faculty members, while simultaneously establishing various non-academic units of the university, in areas such as human resources, information technology, accounting and public relations.
"Recruiting the first few faculty members was very challenging," he says. "I felt like a real estate developer trying to sell a project that has not even been started yet, and has secured no buyers."
Undaunted, Yavaş drew heavily from the United States as the primary source of faculty recruitment.
"I recruited a very good core group of faculty members with Ph.D.s from such leading institutions as UW-Madison, of course, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota, Cornell University, Duke University and the University of Maryland," he says. "With the current faculty in place, it should be easier to recruit more new faculty members."
He is especially proud of the fact that he established a special partnership with the University of Wisconsin that will be mutually beneficial for both institutions.
"Since the language of instruction at AIU is English, a majority of the incoming students would have to study English for a year before taking classes," he explains. "According to the agreement between UW and AIU, the English as a Second Language program here at UW will help AIU students with their English preparation program. In particular, UW will help AIU with curriculum design, instructor recruitment, and quality control."
In addition to recruitment and building ties with UW-Madison, Yavaş' days during his year abroad often were filled with meetings and strategy discussions. He also built ties with other Turkish universities, attended conferences on higher education, and promoted the school in Turkey and in other countries.
"I also was able to find bits of time here and there to enjoy the warm waters of the Mediterranean, as well as the natural and historical sites around the city," he says with a smile.
Since his return to UW-Madison in January this year, Yavaş has gone back to teaching and conducting research, and he remains involved with guiding Turkey's monetary policy.
"Unfortunately, my schedule does not allow me to spend any meaningful time with Antalya International University anymore," he says.
Even for an accomplished academician like Yavaş, though, he humbly notes that it was a rewarding experience of a lifetime.
"I didn't really have much experience to prepare me for what I had to do," he says. "This is part of the reason why it was an enjoyable challenge for me."
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