Global Conversations With: Dr. Stacey Sauchuk, President of Valley Forge Military Academy

Alison Vayne, for GPA -- Dr. Stacey Sauchuk is the first civilian woman to be appointed by the Board of Trustees to the position of president at Valley Forge Military Academy and College. She has been there since April 2013 and has brought her past experiences in education to improve and maintain Valley Forge’s high academic standards.

What is your role at Valley Forge?

I’m the president of the institution. The institution is comprised of an academy, which is grade seven through 12, and a college, which is a two-year associate degree granting college. My responsibility is to oversee both areas. So, I have overall operational responsibility for all the schools.

What career path led you here?

I’m a school psychologist by training and so I was interested in working in education and have pretty much, since I finished my doctorate, been working in education in some capacity. Immediately prior to coming here I worked 15 years in the for-profit higher-education sector. I had a lot of administrative experience in education and I was the chair of the Board of Trustees of Eastern University for the past four years. I had affiliation with Valley Forge by being affiliated with Eastern.

What are your goals for the school?

My goals and hopes are to continue the rich tradition and legacy of Valley Forge. We have a very strong academic reputation and a lot of my focus is just continuing to keep that going and to even improve it a little bit in terms of academic rigor and hiring great faculty and, really, to grow the school. Currently we have approximately 600 cadets and the most that the school has ever had is 1,200, which was way back in like the ‘60s. I’d like to see us get back eventually to a core of cadets of around 1,200.

Are you involved in any international initiatives?

Yes. Currently, our international population is about 24 percent and I believe according to the last count, we’ve got students from 26 different countries. We really talk about Valley Forge being an international leadership institute that uses a military model. The real advantage to that is that it really enriches the experience of all of our students. We’re preparing students to go into what is obviously a global economy. Nowadays they’re really getting the benefit of that here, they are prepared to go into a global economy. So, they’re bunking with or playing sports with people who speak different languages, come from different cultures. What we are trying to do is continue our outreach into the international community.

Why do you think it is important to have international students?

I think it enriches the experience because if you are going to school where all the students look like you and talk like you, it’s very one dimensional. I think that with more diversity of students, more diversity of thinking comes with that and it’s a much richer experience for both the domestic students and the international students. I think the international students, they’re getting acculturated, in many cases they’re learning English or they’re improving their English and they’re getting acculturated to American society. But again, for the domestic students, they’re learning all kinds of different things from all of these different perspectives.

What attracts the international students here?

What we hear primarily from our international students is that they’re looking for academic rigor so they’re interested in our academic programs. That is probably number one and then they’re also looking for a safe and secure environment. Parents are sending their children overseas to this location. It is a beautiful campus, but it is a very safe area yet it is proximal to New York, D.C. and Philadelphia, obviously. So I think it’s very accessible, being so close to New York and Philly but yet it’s this really safe environment. What we hear a lot from the international students too is that they really like the military model because it is providing discipline and structure in addition to the academics.

What do you think of Philadelphia as a global center?

I think there is wonderful opportunity for Philly to continue to grow as a global center. I don’t think that we get the recognition that we deserve. I think there’s a lot more going on here, especially with the base of universities that we have. I think there is just a tremendous amount going on in Philadelphia from a global perspective and I think that people tend to overlook us and they think of D.C., they think of New York, they don’t necessarily think of Philadelphia.

What are the things that you keep in mind when you think of your international student community and your American students?

We have a robust English as a Second Language (ESL) program because a lot of our students are coming in with very little English. It varies, but by and large they really need the ESL help. So I think about, how do we make them feel welcome? How do we make sure that we’re meeting their needs because they might be different? They’re experiencing possibly a different level of homesickness than our domestic students. We think about how to make sure that they’re mixing well with other international students and domestic students because sometimes what happens, especially if their English is not strong, they stick too closely together. It’s just human nature and there’s nothing wrong with that but part of what they are here to do is to improve their English and to get acculturated. So making sure that there are activities where they’re mixing and matching is important. Obviously we’re paying careful attention to their visa status and stuff like that and making sure that they are getting opportunities to travel, to go to New York, to go to D.C., to get beyond the campus as it’s appropriate.

Photo courtesy of Valley Forge Military Academy and College.