INTERVIEW WITH MR. VISAR JASIQI, CHIEF DEVELOPMENT OFFICER AT RIT KOSOVO (AUK)
By Rafaela Prifti-
–As Chief Officer of the Unit of Institutional Advancement at RIT (AUK), what aspect of your job is most important to you?
The Institutional Advancement Unit has four areas of Development to support the university: Supporting Outstanding Talent and Student Experience; Supporting Research, New Program Development and Professorships; Campus Transformation; and Endowment Fund.
Supporting Outstanding Talent and Student Experience is most important for me. I belong to a generation that has been denied access to education in my native Albanian language in Kosovo. Part of my High School classes were conducted in a private house that was converted to a school as the parallel system of education during the 90’s. “Sami Frasheri” High School building was burned down in the war and is now a private museum. The House Schools (Shtepi – Shkolla) across Kosovo were made available by good will peoplewhile the parallel system of education was supported thanks to donations by the people of Kosovo and our diaspora.
Today, access to good education is constrained by financial means in Kosovo, which is the least economically developed county in Europe. Helping to provide the means for the talented and financially underprivileged youth is, in my view, the most noble part of my job and the most rewarding one for the society. Investment in these four years of study determines their success for the next 40 years of their life. And not just theirs, but the whole family and the society. I believe that investment in the human capital in the region is of vital importance to build a prosperous society.
–The Biberaj Foundation was established in 2018 on the 50th Anniversary of the Biberaj family’s arrival in the United States. Members of the Biberaj family havepursued careers ranging from education, media, law, arts, public service, retail, real estate, finance and philanthropy and havebecome valuable and contributing individuals of society. As strong believers in the benefits of higher education and insupporting their communities, the Biberaj Foundation dedicated $ 2.5 million to Albanian professionals in pursuit of graduate studies in the US through the Albanian American Development Foundation (MIP) in July 2018.In a Press Release issued last Sunday the Biberaj Foundation announced a$1.1 million Scholarship Programat RIT (AUK). Is this the first of its kind and how much of a relief does it bring at the time when colleges are faced with increased financial challenges?
Yes, this is the first Scholarship Program at RIT Kosovo (AUK) with the Biberaj Foundation.
The pandemic has caused an unprecedented human and health crisis. The measures necessary to contain the virus have triggered an economic crisis decimating our students’ financial ability to complete their studies. Some students struggled to complete their spring semester online without the technology they need at home. Others who rely on their part-time jobs to support their living expenses, have seen their employment put on hold. And, worst of all, due to personal or family loss of employment, some are uncertain if they will return to RIT Kosovo (A.U.K) next semester. The pandemic prevention measures also caused RIT Kosovo (A.U.K) to cancel its largest Scholarship Fundraising Gala Event in Prishtina, which was planned to take place this May. Many talented and financially underprivileged freshmen students that were hoping and preparing to join RIT Kosovo (A.U.K) through such scholarship funds are now seeing their academic hopes and dreams derailed. For this reason, we have established the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund to help struggling students and families.
The Biberaj Foundation Scholarship Program goes beyond the current pandemic crisis as it strategically tries to serve marginalized groups with preference given to women and students coming from rural areas; thus creating a necessary human capital that can help increase the prosperity of the region they are coming from. As BF noble mission is aligned with our mission, RIT Kosovo (A.U.K) has proudly joined this endeavor by committing to partake in costs associated to living expenses in Kosovo and New York campus.
-What are the plans of reopening in the fall following a shutdown as was the case in the US. Have you decided on a learning program online or in-person or a blend of both?
We have not paused our educational delivery for a single day. We were somewhat prepared and as soon as the virus emerged in Europe (Italy) we started preparation to execute our Emergency Response and immediately transferred to alternative modes of delivery (online). Now of course the events such as Forum Speaker Events, Career Fair, Gala Fundraising Dinner, etc that included social gatherings have halted while some moved online. We currently have four plans ready for the fall semester: 1. On-site
2. Online 3. Blended on-line lecture, On-site lab and exams 4. Blended synchronous On-site and On-line lectures, with half of students on site and half online, in rotation. We are monitoring closely the situation and we remain agile to adapt to the recommendation by the health institution and the state and execute one of the plans.
–Biberaj Foundation Press Release states the list of requirements for the applicants and it also puts emphasis on encouraging women and minorities in the field of science. Can you talk more about it?
It is the desire of the Biberaj Family that the scholarship supports marginalized groups, young talented individuals (with 75% to 50% women) that have not have had access to good education nor have the financial means for college studies. At RIT Kosovo (A.U.K) we have other programs that support financially underprivileged students from specific regions or ethnicities (i.e. Ulqin, Dibra, Kosovo Regional scholarships, Minority Scholarships, etc) and we have worked with Biberaj Foundation to synergize and target both underrepresented students coming from regions such as Tropoja, Presheva, Plave and Guci, etc. and Minorities such as Roma, Bosniaks, Gorani, etc. This helps to further diversify our student body which aids to the learning process.
-When does the application process begin? Do you have indications of how the community there feels about it?
The first scholarship will be awarded to students starting in Fall of 2021. Our plans are to open the application process for the Biberaj Foundation Scholarship by end of September 2020.We have issued the announcement on July 20 and we already started receiving inquiries from potential beneficiaries of this scholarship. The community has accepted this announcement with great joy and expressed gratitude to the family.
–The Albanian American community is familiar with RIT Kosovo (AUK). Diellicovered the orientation presented at Kosova Consulate in New York last November. Do you expect enrollments from the diaspora? What does the data suggest?
Around 18% of students at RIT Kosovo (A.U.K) are not from Kosovo and we do get enrollments from the diaspora as well. In this fall, due to the pandemic travel restrictions and the uncertainties that come with it, we expect the diaspora enrollment to be affected a little bit.
–What would you want to say to the community organizations and specifically VATRA, a 108 year-old Federation still operating in America about studying at RIT Kosovo (AUK)?
To the youth:
RIT Kosovo (A.U.K) is a good opportunity for the students of the Albanian-American Diaspora, who add to the fabric and network of our community and arrive at our campus with a diversity of interests and backgrounds in addition to the intellectual passion to graduate and succeed with a US Degree. The benefit of getting the RIT Degree in Kosovo is the cost that amounts to a fraction of the price that one pays in the US. Studying at RIT Kosovo (A.U.K) gives the comfort of being next to your extended family members in this part of the world, while enjoying the culture of your ancestors, and still being able to receive an accredited US degree. This degree is the same one awarded to students at the main RIT campus in Rochester, New York. Kosovo is a new country with the youngest population in Europe. Every second person is under 25 years of age, which makes this place with a population of 1.8 million a very joyful environment. At our Kosovo campus, student-centeredness is one of our core values.
To the community organizations:
RIT Kosovo (A.U.K) was founded to support Kosova and its neighboring countries to develop their economies, societies and democratic institutions, by providing an outstanding American education in Kosova and the region. We are proud to witness how our institution has positively impacted Kosovar and regional society throughout the years. Our Success Stories are best represented by our Alumni achievement: 95% of our Alumni employed; 68% hold management positions; whereas 53% are mid and senior managers; 10% working in government, agencies or municipalities, including a Minister of Economy in Northern Macedonia and 4 Alumni elected to serve for the Parliament of Kosova; 11% of our Alumni are entrepreneurs and employ more than 3,000 Kosovars; of alumni who pursued master’s degrees, 65% received some form of scholarship, and 47% were awarded full scholarships to study abroad. Almost all returned to give back to Kosova or the neighboring country.
While we have great cases of success to share with you, we must acknowledge that the recent pandemic and the measure necessary to contain the virus have triggered an economic crisis adversely impacting our students’ financial ability to complete their studies. At the same time, many talented and financially underprivileged freshmen students that were hoping and preparing to join RIT Kosovo (A.U.K) are now seeing their academic hopes and dreams derailed. Each year, we award more than $500,000 in student scholarships through the supporting U.S. Organization, “The American University in Kosovo Foundation Inc,” a New York 501(c)(3) charitable organization and other people of good will that support RIT Kosovo (A.U.K). It appears that this year, that amount will not be sufficient. The support from the Albanian American community organization enable generations of future leaders in Kosovo, the region and further abroad to receive a quality American education and to become active and integrated members in our societies. I hope that you can join us in supporting the youth in Kosovo and the region.