Irena Guszak, President and Dean of RIT Croatia: Top American Education in Croatia

The past nearly 30 years of operating in the local higher education market have been both challenging and rewarding from the start. 

As pioneers of private higher education, we introduced many innovations in the form of American higher educational programs that allow students to study in English and obtain two diplomas – Croatian and American, for Diplomacy&Commerce says Dr. Irena Guszak , President and Dean of RIT Croatia. Among other things, Ms. Guszak believes that one of the biggest challenges in the future remains the adequate adaptation of the education system to rapid technological changes.

1. RIT Croatia has been operating for over 25 years. Today you have more than 830 students in Zagreb and Dubrovnik. As an American college, how challenging and different was it to start working in Croatia, and how do you view the past 25 years? Where is RIT Croatia today?

RIT Croatia, formerly known as the American College of Management and Technology (ACMT), was established in 1997 as a result of collaboration between the then Ministry of Science and Technology and the renowned private American university, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). This makes us the private higher education institution with the longest tradition of offering professional undergraduate programs in Croatia. RIT‘s education system is designed to adequately prepare students for the global labor market through a multidisciplinary approach to teaching and various forms of experiential learning. Students sharpen both hard and soft skills, testing theory in practice through numerous industry collaborations, including RIT‘s co-op program, one of the largest in the world. At the same time, we entered a market accustomed to the public higher education system, which meant building trust in the quality of the American and private education system within the local community took time. The start was certainly not without challenges – from unequal business conditions for private and public higher education institutions to certain differences in the quality of players in the private higher education market, all of which affect the perception of quality. Over the past decades, we have built a strong brand recognized for the quality of education and the success of our graduates. Today, more than 3,000 of them lead highly successful careers in local and multinational companies, and government institutions – in more than 50 countries worldwide. They are a true testament to the quality of the educational system that RIT provides. From the beginning, we built our community from within,‘ focusing on an education system centered on student well-being and providing comprehensive support and opportunities for personal and professional development. I am extremely proud that even today, nearly 30 years later, new students come to us based on the recommendations and experiences of alumni, and that graduates remain closely connected to their alma mater – through participation in our advisory boards, guest lectures, student employment, mentorship programs, and numerous other opportunities.

2. In your work, you pay special attention to the needs of students and the needs of employers and he job market, thus ensuring that after graduation, students are well prepared for future careers. You also focus on cooperative education and student exchange to gain more experience and understand diversity. What programs and studies do you currently offer?

RIT Croatia offers American higher education programs:
• Undergraduate programs (4) –
graduates obtain both Croatian and
American diplomas:
• New Media Design BFA
• Web and Mobile Computing BS
• Global Business Management BS
• Hospitality and Tourism Management
As part of lifelong learning activities at RIT Croatia, the Zagreb campus offers Master of Science programs from RIT: Organizational Leadership and Innovation and Information Technology and Analytics.  As I mentioned earlier, a trademark of RIT is experiential learning both in and out of the classroom through the co-op program, which allows students to gain real work experience in their chosen field of study. To date, our students have completed more than 450 years of internships in nearly 5,000 companies worldwide. These experiences not only increase their employability but also help them better understand their career interests and develop key professional skills. In addition to the Erasmus+ program, RIT‘s student exchange program allows our students to spend a semester at the main RIT campus in New York or at the RIT campuses in Dubai and Kosovo. These opportunities enable them to experience different cultures, broaden their horizons, and improve their English language skills.

3. You nurture a holistic approach to education based on modern American education. What are the similarities and differences between American and Croatian students in terms of learning methods?
Although there are some differences between international and Croatian students in learning methods, we have noticed many similarities. Both groups of students share a passion for learning and development and are highly motivated to acquire new knowledge and skills. American students often come with an educational background that emphasizes active participation in class, critical thinking, and teamwork. They are used to a participatory learning style that includes discussions, debates, and problem-solving in groups. Croatian students, on the other hand, often come from an education system that places more emphasis on theoretical knowledge and individual work. However, we have noticed that Croatian students quickly adapt to our system, which emphasizes the practical application of knowledge, critical thinking, and an interdisciplinary approach. Our role is to help all students adapt and adopt the best practices from both systems. For example, through project assignments, case studies, and cooperative education, we encourage students to apply theoretical knowledge in real situations, thereby developing practical skills and critical thinking. In this context, our holistic approach to education, which combines theory and practice and a multidisciplinary approach to teaching, has proven extremely effective for students from both groups.

4. In addition to students, the quality and credibility of education are also provided by the teaching staff, professors. How important is the selection of qualified staff, and how would you rate their work, especially in imparting knowledge and life stories? How important do you think the professor-student relationship is?
Choosing competent experts who are excellent in their field and also educators who understand the important role they play in the personal development of students is key to ensuring the quality of our education. Our faculty members are not only experts in their fields but also experienced practitioners who bring realworld experiences into the classroom. This is extremely important as it allows students to see how theoretical knowledge is applied in the real world. Instructors are dedicated to continuous professional development, participate in research projects, and collaborate with the industry. Their ability to connect theory and practice helps students better understand complex concepts and develop relevant skills. In addition to the faculty, I want to highlight the role of our administrative staff. We have built a comprehensive support system that provides an optimal environment for students to develop in desired directions. This system includes various advisors such as admissions specialists, academic advisors, career advisors, student advocates, and more. The main goal is to ensure a high-quality student experience – both in and out of the classroom.

5. How would you rate the level of higher education in Croatia in general, and is there anything you would change or praise? What do you see as the biggest challenges in education that await us in the future?
Higher education in Croatia has many qualities that deserve praise. There is a strong and high-quality academic tradition, and many public and private institutions provide quality higher education. There is an increasing emphasis on the importance of quality education and lifelong learning, which is also highly commendable. However, there are areas that need improvement to make the system more adaptable to the needs of today‘s dynamic labor market. We need better solutions for the challenges faced by international students in Croatia, whose numbers at RIT Croatia are increasing year by year. Today‘s dynamic environment brings many challenges for everyone. We live in an era where many questions are being raised about artificial intelligence for example. AI is not emerging; it has already happened. Therefore, as an educational institution, we must know how to adequately respond to such challenges and equip future leaders with the knowledge and skills for emerging professions. The days of the premise ‚when you get a job, the employer will teach you how to actually do the job‘ are long gone. Due to increasingly dynamic and disruptive changes, employers are increasingly seeking ‚plug-and-play‘ solutions, which means work experience and an adequate combination of hard and soft skills in students – future employees. In conclusion, one of the biggest challenges in the future remains the adequate adaptation of the education system to rapid technological changes. Given the speed at which technology is advancing, we are committed to ensuring that our study programs remain relevant and that students acquire the skills they will need in their future careers. This includes continuous curriculum revision, the introduction of new technologies in teaching, and collaboration with industry to ensure that students are well prepared for the future.

6. Where and how do you see RIT Croatia in the next 25 years?
In the next 25 years, I see RIT Croatia as an influential higher education institution in the region, known for its innovation, quality, and global perspective. We continue to develop our study programs and plan to introduce new ones that will meet future job market needs. Our strategic goals include strengthening international cooperation, increasing the number of international students, and expanding our research activities. We are committed to developing a community that promotes friendship, cooperation, respect, and continuous learning, continuing to create positive changes in Croatian higher education. Our mission remains to provide high-quality education that prepares students for successful and fulfilling careers in the global market.