OHLALA is inaugurating this section with a chat with Dr Susan E. Saxton, the Founding President of the American University of Bahrain (AUBH). She tells us her story and all about higher education in Bahrain.

“Motivate yourself and articulate your ‘will’, and then find your way. Show up. Keep going. Don’t stop in the middle!”

– Dr Susan E. Saxton

OHLALA – Why did you choose to work in education?
Dr Susan E. Saxton – I’ve always had a passion for teaching and learning, so the education industry is a natural for me. However, my career has been geared toward the business and innovation side of education regarding startups, turnarounds, building networks of higher education institutions around the world and, of course, setting the standard for leadership, management, and operations required in high-performing institutions. My focus on international education is on building the workforce needed to positively impact communities and societies, supporting the international trade of ideas, goods, and services, and increasing the quality of life for those who need it the most. Education is also a catalyst to cultural interaction, shared best practices, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking – all of which can foster collaborative and creative thinking about our future.

OHLALA – What are the most exciting highlights at the American University of Bahrain?
Dr Saxton – First, we are lucky to have a sensational campus, built by
U.S-based architects Ayers Saint Gross (ASG), which specialises in the
student-centred experience. Completing this state-of-the-art campus
was a significant milestone that allowed us to welcome the first cohort of
undergraduate students in the autumn of 2019. As the first Americanstyle institution in the Kingdom, we are proud to have received eligibility
to apply for U.S. regional accreditation through the Western Association
of Schools and Colleges (WASC), which is the highest quality assurance
for schools and universities at an institutional level in the United States.
Since the academic year started, I have been very proud of the number
of safe and sound activities on- and off-campus. A new Student Council
was elected with energetic leadership; we celebrated holidays, along with
sports activities like the annual President’s Run; we hosted visitors in online
classes and on-campus; we initiated Discover America Week with the
U.S. Embassy, AmCham, Microsoft and Amazon; and we implemented a
myriad of agreements and scholarships with prominent and highly regarded
companies in the Kingdom. And that’s just the beginning!

OHLALA – In your 25+ years of experience, what are the achievements you are most proud of? And what were the most significant challenges?
Dr Saxton – Since my experience is mainly related to start-ups, turnarounds, initial public offerings (IPO), mergers and acquisition, I’ve been proud to lead institutions to success and help create high-performance teams. I’m pleased to have hired senior officers who have followed me from one position to another for more than 25 years. Of course, when you move around and spend a lot of time travelling, it’s always challenging to balance work and family life. While challenging, I’ve been lucky to be in roles that brought me a great deal of job- and self-satisfaction. I’ve also been blessed with a family that has supported me in many ways and is proud of what I am doing. Especially now in the Covid-19 era, there are many challenges requiring fortitude and persistence to overcome. I am content with how we have managed to deal with the adversities and how our team has made opportunities out of obstacles.

OHLALA – As a woman who has conquered a lot in your career, what advice would you give to other women starting their career journey?
Dr Saxton – First and foremost, I would recommend making yourself open to as many learning experiences, challenges and opportunities as possible. Show up at different events and occasions, and venture outside of your comfort zone. Seek out mentors you respect and value, and observe them – and, above all, never stop learning. Take some risks and test resilience; make some errors early on, so you bounce back smarter than before. Build skills and store them in your mental tool kit to pull out when you need them. Think strategically and operationally, regularly express your mission, purpose, values, and priorities, and then measure your performance. When I was growing up, there was a saying about overcoming struggles: “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. Motivate yourself and articulate your ‘will’, and then find your way. Show up. Keep going. Don’t stop in the middle!

OHLALA – What are your favourite things to do on the island?
Dr Saxton – Bahrain is a country I can happily call a second home, and being on campus with the AUBH community is what I enjoy the most. I also love to join my Monday night running group and sports friends, who I get to see from time to time. And I especially enjoy learning about Bahrain’s history through the many wonderful friends I have made in the last two years. As the Founding President of AUBH, I’m particularly pleased that the Kingdom has been enthusiastic about the concept of an American-style university that is, and will become even more, part of the fabric of Bahrain with its beautiful past and promising future.
OHLALA – If you hadn’t taken the path into the educational field, what other route would you have followed?
Dr Saxton – Though I did not have a traditional education-related background, I have managed to find and stay in a role that leveraged all my skill sets, degrees and interests. I don’t think I could have planned this from the start, but I’m sure happy that I’m here now!


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