Emilia Zankina brings a wealth of experience in international education to her new role as vice provost for Global Engagement. Zankina has served as dean of Temple University Rome Campus since 2020.
She led the Rome Campus through the pandemic, restoring all operations and academic programming and launching several new initiatives including precollege workshops, a visiting artist residency, a revamped Adult Study Abroad Program, campus improvements, and a marketing and recruitment campaign.
Under her direction, Temple Rome was among the first U.S. programs in Italy to restart in-person instruction.
Zankina holds a Ph.D. in International Affairs and a Certificate in Advanced East European Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. She is an associate professor in political science and an active researcher concentrating on democratization and elite transformation in Eastern Europe, populism, civil service reform, and gender political representation.
Read below about Vice Provost Zankina and her thoughts and plans on leading the university’s strategic vision for the Office of Global Engagement.
Can you tell us how you got into the field of International Education?
Working in international education evolved naturally for me given my background. I was born in Bulgaria, educated in the U.S., and I live in Italy. My interest in the world began in my youth. At an early age, I loved and began studying languages. I discovered that knowing other languages helped me connect with people.
I am fascinated by how people are united by common values but differentiated by culture.
I also love traveling, which early on I couldn’t do because of the communist regime in Bulgaria, which did not allow its citizens to leave the country. When communism there collapsed, I travelled as a teenager to Italy, Switzerland, and Japan and I started learning Italian and Japanese.
What brought you to Temple?
While studying and working at the University of Pittsburgh, I visited Philadelphia. I knew of Temple but had no idea Temple had campuses in Japan and Rome and an international presence in many other places.
Later when I was provost at the American University in Bulgaria [a U.S.-accredited liberal arts college with a population of 60% international students], I was contacted about applying to be the dean of Temple Rome. I applied; it seemed perfect. I had already worked in international education for almost 15 years, lived in Italy previously, and spoke Italian.
What are your goals in your new position?
My first goal is to showcase our already existing strong global assets. We have much to brag about, and we have been too shy. As a public institution that opened international campuses in the sixties [Temple University Rome, 1966] and eighties [Temple University, Japan Campus, 1982], we are clearly leaders. Back then, opening international campuses was cutting-edge, not something most institutions did.
We continue to be leaders in global higher education. Our team introduced two nationwide campaigns: #You Are Welcome Here and #WhyUS. #YouAreWelcomeHere became so large that now the world’s largest association dedicated to international education, NAFSA: the Association of International Educators, took over the campaign. And the International Trade Administration’s USA: A Study Destination Program has endorsed our #WhyUS campaign.
Next is to discover and exploit new opportunities and synergies. We already have many global programs and partners, but we want to take full advantage of the synergies between our efforts. We can do more to coordinate our global efforts across schools and colleges.
And we can do more in recruiting international students and in getting Temple’s name out there. For example, we now, for the first time, have billboard advertising in Rome’s airport, which has gained us lots of attention.
Recently, we also began recruiting for all three of our international campuses—Main, Rome and Japan—in a united effort, emphasizing just how global we are, and the many global opportunities Temple gives students.
Another important goal is taking global to the next level. We need to extend the areas where we have programs. There’s a lot of potential for programming in Africa and in Latin America. We are working on choosing hubs of activity in these and other key areas.
But globalization begins on campus where we are helping students gain cultural competencies and a global mindset. We can encourage this by integrating international students with domestic students and showcasing the cultures of international students. Already, we host joint events, like our monthly International Coffees, where students can mix and explore their commonalities and learn about the greater world.
Also, part of developing a global mindset happens beyond the classroom. This year, for the first time, we hosted Super Mega Global Week (SMG), combining two long-term Temple global events—#YouAreWelcomeHere Week and Study Abroad Week. The result was a full week of events celebrating global engagement for students, faculty and staff.
Essential to our goals is empowering and supporting our faculty to internationalize their curriculum and what they teach in class, as well as supporting their international research and network. For instance, in teaching business strategy, faculty can use an example of a multinational corporation and explain how global strategy works. Or, when discussing art, they can expose students to contemporary artists outside of the U.S.
By presenting at international conferences and collaborating on joint research with international scholars, our faculty showcase their expertise and promote Temple’s global commitment.
Finally, our location in Philadelphia can help us achieve our goals. Philly is so rich in immigrant and ethnic communities. We can partner with the people, businesses, other universities and associations in Philadelphia who share our interests.
What do you see as the biggest challenge?
Any big mission is full of challenges. I don’t expect anything less than big challenges every step of the way. But to meet our goals we must keep in mind why we are taking on these challenges—student success. We believe our students will have fuller and better lives if they are aware of other cultures and other points of views and incorporate them into their daily lives.
How do you plan to support Domestic Admissions to recruit international students?
We’ve been working together, coordinating every step of the way domestically and internationally, keeping the partnership between Admissions and Global Engagement open with communication. Our partnership makes me extremely optimistic. I firmly believe that our global engagement efforts will help us attract more international students and will also make us more appealing to domestic audiences.
How can Temple encourage and support students who want to study abroad and appeal to a variety of students?
Our goal is to ensure as many students as possible can study abroad. To advance this goal, we have scholarship support for specific disciplines, and for students in general. We also provide advising for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and the Vira I. Heinz Program for Women, Non-Binary, and Transgender Global Leaders. Both these scholarships aim to expand study abroad opportunities for students from historically underrepresented groups.
All a student needs to do is walk into the Education Abroad Office, in Tuttleman Learning Center on the second floor, and we take it from there. We help students figure out where they want to go, help them with their application, and in finding available funding.
Studying abroad for any student is truly transformative. Students make memories and lifelong friends and discover a great deal about themselves. When you are in your own culture and comfort zone, it is hard to question who you are and how you do things. Being in a country that is not their own, students can experience lifechanging moments.
For all those students who are wondering whether they should study abroad, the answer is yes. It will truly transform you. And we run programs with most Temple schools with a variety of timeframes.
How can faculty get involved with Global Engagement?
For starters, Global Engagement supports faculty to do research abroad and to teach Temple students in faculty-led programs abroad. We are currently looking for more grant funding to help support our faculty in international travel and research and in connecting with our students abroad. Faculty can come to us about the many opportunities we have for teaching courses abroad or take initiative on their own and we’ll find ways to support them.
Why did International Affairs change its name to Global Engagement?
I love the word “engagement” because it implies involvement and action. The term “international” suffers a little in as it can imply division between international and domestic. By contrast, Global Engagement implies that our efforts are united in connecting us to the global world and that we are part of that global world.
Temple is a diverse school. How do our international partners reflect that?
We have over 200 partners, with over 375 agreements in 55 different countries and on six continents, and we have international students from over 120 countries.
You were an international student once. What was your experience like?
Initially, I was miserable. It’s not easy being away from your family especially since back then I couldn’t just text friends and family.
But now, when I look back, I realize what a transformative experience this was and how it defined my future life. I realize that what I first thought was miserable, really equipped me with incredibly useful skills. I’m no longer shy; I’m more open to learning and engaging in critical thinking; I adapt quickly to new environments and thrive in the context of diversity. These are skills I continue to use in my daily life.
What are your outside interests?
I’m a professional dancer with my first degree in dance. A dance scholarship took me to the U.S. Throughout my life, I have danced—performing or teaching or both. I no longer perform; I now teach dance.
Being a dancer has given me discipline, resilience and inspiration and it has helped me meet interesting people. It’s important to my life and identity. I feel incredibly lucky to have this as a part of who I am, sparking inspiration and lessons I can apply to other aspects of my life, including my current position as interim VP of Global Engagement.
Interviewed by Lisa Z. Meritz, director of marketing and communications
Photo by Ivy Hoa Nguyen