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Faculty Champion

Natalia Bulgari ES’86 provides “rocket fund” commitment to support faculty.

Integral to SYA’s curriculum redesign, teachers will play a crucial role in a new wave of experiential learning, requiring a commensurate level of dedication to professional development that has been a hallmark of excellence at School Year Abroad. As a former board member and long-time champion of SYA teachers, Natalia Bulgari ES’86 has once again made SYA faculty excellence her top priority, now with a leadership campaign pledge earmarked for immediate use. And the benefits of this support have been profound and lasting, similar to previous philanthropic support from the Bulgari family.

In 2011, the family provided funds to create the Halsey Fund, SYA’s first endowed scholarship, established in honor of Woodruff W. Halsey II — former president, executive director, resident director and teacher —enabling one student per year to receive generous financial aid as well as a stipend for round-trip airfare to their SYA campus of enrollment. At the time, Bulgari said “Twenty–five years ago Woody Halsey had my best interest at heart when he took me off the waiting list, told me I needed to keep my grades up and gave me the opportunity to spend a year studying in Spain. That opportunity changed my life.”

Bulgari recognizes that this level of excellence requires a strong financial foundation in order to persist far into the future. With only a modest endowment in place, SYA does not have abundant funds for innovation or evolution. By structuring her gift for immediate use, Bulgari and her family seek to help SYA prepare its faculty to implement new ideas and coursework as quickly and efficiently as possible. It is her hope that the campaign will also bolster SYA’s ability to offer competitive compensation packages in order to attract and retain faculty with high levels of expertise at all four campuses.

“SYA offers a learning experience that is simply unlike any other,” says Bulgari. “Where else can a student live and study abroad at such a formative age, in such an authentic yet challenging way? It causes you to grow as you have never grown before. And all of this is possible because the academic program is absolutely tight, nearly flawless, and because the faculty are so masterful and dedicated.”

For Head of Schools and Programs Dr. Aric Visser, Bulgari’s leadership support has made a vital difference. Thanks to increased funds, SYA’s curricular redesign began in earnest during 2018 with three months of online professional development work involving 25 faculty from across all four SYA campuses. During June 2018, their online collaboration culminated in a full week of in-person planning in Zaragoza at SYA’s first-ever Conference on Teaching and Learning Abroad.

“This has been a game changer for us,” says Visser. “Never before have we had the financial flexibility to collaborate for an extended period online or to gather an interdisciplinary group of faculty leaders in one location. The work we accomplished together in 2018 provides the foundation for everything going forward. We entered year two of the redesign with a clear framework for developing new coursework and establishing student assessment metrics. We’re tremendously excited about this new phase of learning and teaching at SYA.”