Guillermo Cisneros, VP of Global Initiatives/Executive Director, Berklee in Valencia
Interview by Sophie Maricq
Guillermo Cisneros comes to Berklee after years of experience in several fields, launching projects as an entrepreneur and leading marketing and advertising efforts. Throughout his career, he has always been dedicated to the world of education.
Why is Berklee in Valencia important?
Well, it is a central part of Berklee’s international strategy. We are focusing on developing an international campus that is, like the Boston campus, a leader in music education. Our focus is to develop leaders in the music industry on a global level.
We want to reach the musical traditions where the music is, which is what Berklee as an institution has been doing for a long time now, through the Berklee International Network schools, the Study Abroad program, and many other global initiatives. Having done all that work already, Berklee is placing even more importance on its international approach. As the college strives to make this happen, we always make students the priority, and therefore we need to get Berklee—and our students—closer to those cultures where the music resides.
Berklee in Valencia is Berklee’s first international campus, and its evolution will generate more opportunities for students, enrich the faculty, and strengthen connections with the music industry in different regions of the world.
You may be wondering, "Why Spain?" Well, simply, because it is closely connected to four main cultural areas: Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. I think the interaction with different cultural hubs is critical.
What makes the Valencia campus different from the Boston campus?
First of all, the climate! That’s a clear difference. Valencia is also an excellent location because of the unusual architecture of the building where the campus will be situated.
The Valencia campus is very much focused on the global industry through the master’s programs and International Career Center. This center will support the master’s programs but will also create specific opportunities for all Berklee students—including those from the Boston campus—to focus on developing global careers. They’ll achieve this through our curriculum and by taking internships with music industry companies around the world.
And a big advantage for any Berklee student is that these two campuses will be interconnected, and will complement each other. The students from Boston will be able to participate in activities on the Valencia campus, and vice versa.
What sort of resources can we expect on the Valencia campus?
The facilities are extremely attractive, with classrooms, tech labs, recording studios, production suites, an auditorium, ensemble rooms, and a lot of other great features. We have very comprehensive state-of-the-art technology for the exclusive use of our students. And Valencia itself has a lot of resources, with more musicians per square meter than anywhere in Spain.
When did courses and programs really kick into high gear?
Concerning the courses, we already started last summer. We held two special programs, one for singer-songwriters and vocalists and the other for musicians interested in studying flamenco.
In January 2012, we enrolled our first group of students for full-time study. After they complete the spring semester, those students will take an internship in some other country in the world. This first group will consist of music business students from the Boston campus. Later, international studies will be available to other majors.
Also in January, we officially launched the Mediterranean Music Institute. It is an important objective of the Valencia campus to create direct links between all of the Mediterranean musical cultures. It’ll make Berklee closer to important musical traditions such as flamenco, music from the Middle East, and other styles from the region. A very select group of students interested in broadening their knowledge in these musical cultures will pursue in-depth studies to better understand what makes these traditions unique. And of course, they’ll also study and perform these regional music styles.
Then, last, but definitely not least, in September 2011, the admissions process begun for master’s programs that will begin enrolling students for the fall 2012 semester.
Who will the teachers be?
The best!—as Berklee teachers are. As I mentioned earlier, both campuses will be interconnected. All the teachers from Boston will have a chance to apply for openings in Valencia and the new teachers selected to teach positions created for the Valencia campus can apply for Boston positions in the future.
We will select teachers who are best prepared and have the sort of excellent skills needed to teach modern music in line with the Berklee approach to music education.
When did you start to get involved in the world of education?
I have been involved in the education world for more than 25 years. I started as a private teacher at school and university, and after that, I was involved in higher and executive education. I’ve taken a more managerial perspective since the year 2000, when I changed my focus from marketing to education. During this recent period, I’ve focused more on my entrepreneurial side, and I’ve done this by dedicating all of my energy and passion toward education.
Which aspects of higher education are most important to you?
I am attracted to it because it is a field that changes peoples lives. It is an immense satisfaction to see how a person’s potential grows due to a good education. This happens at Berklee all the time.
I’ve gotten to know the education world from different perspectives because I’ve done this work in large corporations, in different levels of higher education, and in several kinds of industries. And I’ve seen things from both sides of the equation. I understand the perspective from the educational side, but also from the point-of-view of people who run organizations, in terms of how they hope to develop and educate their employees.
Launching new educational projects has been a passion throughout my life. A couple of examples are the ESADE campus in Madrid, which is one of the main business schools in the world, and the Global Corporate University of the Santander Group. Having that experience on a range of international educational projects helps me maintain a global perspective on education and helps me be successful as an entrepreneur on an international level. The most important aspect is always the student. Education allows students to develop successful professional careers, and the qualities they obtain are personal and transferable. This is a unique element that Berklee provides, because it focuses on students and on helping them develop tools that help them fulfill their dreams.
And my own music background has played a role. I actually started singing and playing the guitar when I was a kid and didn’t continue with it because I didn’t have access to the educational structure and atmosphere you need to grow as a musician. It was something that few people had access to. I am extremely interested in musicians because I think that choosing to be a musician is one of the bravest decisions you can make. You need a constant tenacity to be successful, and there aren’t many that continue to study all their lives. And aside from all that, you must have a lot of talent.
Tell me about your team
We’re still a small team but it will grow nicely.
First I need to highlight Larry Monroe, vice president of academic affairs/international programs, who has been the driving force of the Valencia project since day one through his strategic point of view and knowledge of academic programs. He is an essential part of the team, not only because he is an established musician, but because of the value of his institutional perspective, having been a part of Berklee for four decades. This is essential to developing all communications and marketing strategies and corresponding messages.
Maria Martinez Iturriaga is director of Valencia enrollment and director of the International Career Center. Maria joined the Berklee in Valencia team in March 2008 as project manager, right from the beginning of the project. She’s now responsible for the Valencia campus enrollment strategy, which involves developing the admissions and marketing strategies for the Valencia programs in coordination with the Boston admissions team, and implementing the registration systems for the Valencia academic programs. As head of the International Career Center, she’s working with Academic Affairs to develop an international curriculum for Boston undergraduate students and creating an international internship program for master’s and undergrad students coming to Valencia.
Carlos Ballester started as program coordinator when the Valencia team was formed. His experience as an artist manager and concert/album promoter brings great qualities to the team. He knows how the day-to-day business works and knows perfectly how to deal with everyone involved in the process from the start to the end. He is also a working musician and is passionate about music, which is critical to his management of our performance programs.
Jorge Rostoll is our director of operations at Berklee in Valencia. Jorge is responsible for all operations and administrative activities concerning the Valencia campus, such as finances, human resources, legal services, purchasing, IT, and the establishment and maintenance of technology. He is from Valencia and hence based in Valencia, opening doors for us by knowing the city and having the right contacts to make things work smoothly. His background has been mainly focused on project management in international companies and managing resources abroad.
You might all already know Javier Limón, who is a very well-known producer, musician, and composer. The man is a legend of Latin American culture. He’s recorded all over the world, from Bogotá to Paris and New York to the Palestinian territories. Javier is the kind of artist who incorporates a very international vibe in his approach to flamenco. He was raised in Spain and then traveled to New York at an early age to train at arts schools in the U.S. He’s won a Grammy Award and seven Latin Grammys, including Producer of the Year, in 2004. He is the artistic director of the Mediterranean Music Institute and will begin by teaching flamenco courses in Boston starting this fall. We are very fortunate to have him.
Agustina Covian is project manager of the Mediterranean Music Institute, collaborating with Javier Limón on the MMI. She also went to Berklee. She’s worked for almost 15 years as a producer and director in film, documentaries, TV, music, events, and corporate communication. She has also worked in a promotion team and produced shows for artists such as Elton John, Shakira, Madonna, the Cure, Marc Anthony, and others. She also created her own production company with a long list of clients, specializing in corporate videos, documentaries, and communications.
Sophie Maricq is communications manager for Berklee in Valencia and the office of global initiatives. Her international background and language knowledge is essential for international programs. Her previous work experience as marketing manager in several multinationals is also key to developing our communications strategy. She is a singer-songwriter and graduated from Berklee in fall 2011. It helps tremendously to have an alumni's point of view and helps us stay on top of the latest Berklee developments. And she conducts a great interview!
Tracey Mellor started as my assistant, and thanks to her organizational and language skills she has become the main reference for students and is in charge of Student Services.
We work very closely with a core Boston team, including Larry Simpson, the staff in admissions, communications, and other areas, and with the direct support of Roger Brown, who has inspired this project. We want to thank all of those who are working and supporting the project.
The support from the Berklee Valencia Advisory Board is also essential, especially the push and energy provided by Ann Kreis and Luis Alvarez and by the whole team of people who are helping us orient the project with their valuable experience.