Dr. Svilen Spasov on the First Scholarship at ACS by Bulgarian Citizens
Dr. Svilen Spasov is a notable member of the ACS community, founder of the Teodora and Darina Spasov Scholarship, the first scholarship at ACS by a Bulgarian citizen, named after his daughters who graduated from ACS with the classes of 2004 and 2005 respectively. The scholarship was established in 2005 with the goal of supporting the girl in every class who has the deepest financial need and maintains a GPA of minimum 5.00 and exemplary conduct throughout her course of study.
Dr. Svilen Spasov was born on September 14, 1954. He finished the Second Mathematics High-School in Varna and has a Master’s degree in Mathematics from Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. He has received awards from national and regional competitions in math and basketball, and has a PhD in Technical Sciences. He is fluent in Russian and English.
Dr. Spasov has worked on projects in Bulgaria and abroad for Shell, J.Ray McDermott USA, Cammel Laird UK, Westinghouse USA and other Bulgarian and foreign companies. Dr. Spasov, would you walk us through your extended life experience?
How did you begin your relation with the American College of Sofia, after its reopening in 1992?
1989 was the year of Freedom for us in the eastern part of Europe. But without Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmut Koll, Margaret Thatcher, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, John Paul II and others, that word would not have become a reality. Historic changes are made by strong leaders in politics, science, technologies, arts. Today maybe is not a historic moment, and probably for this reason there isn’t a critical mass of leaders.
The reopening of the American College of Sofia is one little link in this “wind of change.” Back then, good news travelled very fast. And since my wife lectured at the University of Economics in Varna she was among the first ones to find out. We examined the College against the best high schools, and we saw the difference in the way and level of education and methods of teaching. And we took on this path.
How did you decide to enroll your daughters in the College?
Like all parents, we were looking for the best education for our children. However, those entrance exams, and essays were novel to Bulgaria, so we searched for options of extracurricular preparation. Two or three times a month we would travel from Varna - we’re from Varna and back then lived there - to Sofia for additional lessons. Teodora, and Darina after her, did well and thank goodness got admitted to ACS. And so we moved to Sofia. First my wife and Teodora, then Darina and I joined them.
From the distance of time, what do you consider the most valuable thing that the College gives to its pupils?
The understanding of processes. We Bulgarians are good at facts (the ones they teach us), but some people fail to educate their children in the understanding of processes and “reading comprehension,” as it were. In addition, the college had good results in math, which was a major point of strength in Bulgarian education, throughout the 20th century. And of course, discipline combined with the freedom of choice.
As a result, our family dinners turned into discussion clubs. Everybody got enriched. The different student clubs were also very stimulating to the growth of a young person.
How did you decide to support the mission of the College?
At the time of Teodora and Darina’s education, coincidentally, we had difficulty paying the tuition and they too felt the family’s struggle. For this reason right after their graduation I decided to start this scholarship for a girl in the strongest need and with good scores at school. It bears the name of our daughters and in due time will be taken over by them. There are many examples in Bulgaria’s history of helping talented but financially challenged young people.
Over these fifteen years and the next five our family is expressing its gratitude to ACS.
In what ways do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will change the world, and more specifically education and government?
Teodora and Darina graduated from Davidson, North Carolina, after which Teodora studied Economics in LSE UK, and Darina got her PhD in Immunology from Scripps in San Diego. Those results were based on the foundations created at ACS.
What would be best to change? The most common would probably be a lot more distance learning. I still don’t think that it will replace classroom education. These days we’re all watching, reading, listening about the virus and the measures taken to restrict it. What impresses me most is people’s capability or incapability of explaining things in a manner that is understandable and actionable. From an organizational point of view, Bulgaria had a chance with the National Operational Headquarters, and especially its chair. At least in the beginning. However, when one sees the explanation of complex scientific research in the fight against COVID-19 presented by the La Jolla Institute for Immunology for example, one enters another world, incredibly complex but comprehensibly presented. In Bulgaria, that skill seems to be missing. I hope it changes, not just in this country. And I hope that personal ego, and the ego of different states moves towards respect and solidarity.
Good education and good governance require knowledge and skills that make things understandable and doable for people. That would be a good direction for the changing world.
Besides a philanthropist, you’re also a publisher of a book series titled Power and Responsibility. Can you please share a few words about the statesmen who inspire you most.
I don’t quite like the word philanthropist. I just try and do things according to my abilities and views.
The series numbers six books by now. The seventh one will be out soon, Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House. For the younger generation: he’s the most successful investigative journalist in the world for the last 50 years. In Bulgaria sometimes policies that affect everybody are done in a primitive or pretentious way. That was the reason I created this book series with the help of my friends at Ciela. I won't list the books here, just Google the series title. The books are deep, wise, and nevertheless, relatively easy and fun to read. You will learn a lot about processes, and the insight into the difficult path to success is priceless.
Those who inspire me - you’ll see in the books - are leaders from Europe, America, Asia. That’s why they were selected. If they weren’t inspiring they would not be part of this series. And the title I came up with is not a whim. There is only one political leader in the world at the moment with an 80% approval rating in her own country. She’s a woman. And fits in 100% with the title of the series. That’s the fourth book in the series.
What path do you see for Bulgaria in the next 50 years?
In two years, it will be 30 years since the revival of the college’s activity, so I’ll try, perhaps naively, to comment on the period through 2050.
I suppose that Bulgaria will have a much stronger/closer relationship with Europe than with Russia. Perhaps the country will be more confident and less fearful of the world powers’ interests. I hope that the population will not shrink but grow, and that people will have more comfortable lives. Bulgaria will stabilize its infrastructure and will invest more confidently in science, technologies and culture. It would probably mean that the children of today’s oligarchs won’t rule Bulgaria. And, I hope, we’ll have modern statesmen, who were educated at the American College of Sofia, working for the good of civil society.
And where do you see the College in this time span?
I’ll use a trump card here and ask the opinion of my wife Violeta who is an education expert:
We hope that the College will continue to pave the way to the latest knowledge in the context of the 21st century - by preparing its pupils for the challenges in science, while simultaneously developing in them perception and cognition of society that would motivate them to secure human benevolence in the best traditions of democratic values on the basis of which, and in the name of which, the College has been working since its establishment. And acknowledging the role of the community - educated, capable, united – no matter where in the world it might be, continuing the work of the founders, and in the traditions of the Bulgarian enlighteners. To avoid social alienation among people in the 21st century, because the power of technology should be used to bring people closer regardless of physical distances. The strength of a society is in the Person and the Community, not just in the biology of individuality. This is becoming obvious now with this viral pandemic – once again in human history - not for the first time, perhaps coming to remind us that survival is entirely in the hands of the capable, knowing, acting together Humans.
This year ACS commemorates 160 years since its establishment. What would you wish us?
To continue overcoming the “Ignorance is strength” - to quote George Orwell’s 1984. The capable, talented and ambitious young people need and will need the atmosphere, environment, manners and knowledge of the American College of Sofia.
I love our daughters’ reaction, when someone mentions a bright young person - “but of course, he/she is from the College.”
And don’t forget, let the graduates leave with dreams. Then the College will have accomplished its task.
We are grateful to Dr. Spasov for the time and to his family for the support! If you too would like to aid the Tuition Reduction Program at ACS, you can do so here.