Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

Cattolica International

TONY ADAMS. The positive impact of one man's mentorship

by Lisa Gunnarsson


"He was called “The Godfather” of Australian higher education - but he didn't mature his network on purpose. He developed it because he loved training people and connecting with people." says Edilio Mazzoleni, Director of Global Engagement and International Education. 

Tony Adam's journey did not only directly impact those around him. He is a textbook case of what it means to make a difference that continues to grow - the ripple effect of ideas, untiring work and wholehearted mentorship. And just as he was a mentor for individuals and a wider community, Tony was an inspirational voice in the narration of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore's journey towards internationalisation. He influenced its direction, and confirmed that existing ideas could work. No one's story should exist in isolation, and Tony paved the way to eliminate those distances. He was one of the first people to help narrate Università Cattolica's story - through its location and its people. 

However, before Tony headed toward Italy, he had already made himself a name in the higher education internationalisation arena. As a Director of International Programs at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, he increased the number of mobility students from 1,000 to over 10,000. Tony was also the Foundation President of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) in 2004, which today is Australia's leading association for international education. 

It was not until 2010 that Tony's path would lead to Milan, Italy, working as a consultant for Università Cattolica. Edilio Mazzoleni speaks warmly about him, telling us about their first week working together. Tony was not satisfied until he knew everything there was to know about Università Cattolica, and his dedication showed no limits. So, he locked himself up in a room - from Tuesday to Friday, processing the data. Coming out only for lunch, and at the end of the day: sharing his findings or asking questions. And then, at the end of that week, Tony said, "in the beginning, I thought you were crazy. But clearly, there is some potential here, so let's do it."  

From there, things were set in motion. Tony was at the forefront of developing a new way for Università Cattolica to engage with more students and professionals from all over the world. It was crucial not only because it created a space open for intercultural interaction and broadened perspectives but also because it was the way forward. It was a change that would last. "It was revolutionary what he did," Léa Senn, Associate Director for International Education at Cattolica, explains. "The things he set in motion would change the whole assumption on which the University was operating." Tony developed the concept of the research centre, which one year later, in 2011, would be up and running: the Centre for Higher Education Internationalisation (CHEI).  

Today, CHEI is a crucial extension of Università Cattolica, contributing to professional practice and global research - the leadership and management group represented by countries across five continents. The centre is conducting and facilitating research as well as organising seminars, workshops and training courses. In addition, it is a centre that upholds and promotes dialogue on emerging issues through international conferences. Together with the School of Linguistic Sciences and Foreign Literatures and the School of Education at Università Cattolica, it offers a Doctoral programme (PhD) focused on higher education internationalisation. 

The development of CHEI was more than just strengthening the University's position on the international map; it was in the way of interpreting the map itself, gaining the benefits of sharing knowledge, opening up, and showing that no one benefits from working in solitude. Tony could take something that might seem obvious and boil it down to the very core of its essence, reminding us of why it matters. Starting from the basics. "Tony said, I believe you are doing something great, something new. However, if you don't conceptualise what you're doing, you're not going to make a difference in our field: you need to speak the language of the people." More than that, thanks to the centre's Tony Adams Visiting Scholars Scheme, the essence of his work continues to inspire others. It shows us that Tony's journey paved the way for other people's journeys and dreams. 

Because through this scheme, researchers on education internationalisation worldwide can visit the centre, share their expertise through seminars, and participate in CHEI's training activities and research. It cultivates the importance of exchanging knowledge, learning more about internationalisation and what it will mean for the future. But also, exchanging stories - talking, listening and recognising your part of a bigger picture. Professionals from all over the world come to Università Cattolica, soaking in the atmosphere carrying a century of history, in the bustling city centre of a forward-thinking city, Milan. The walls echo with experiences.

Despite endless hours of working towards what he believed in, Tony never took life outside of work for granted. He never rushed a meal. He would talk business with his Milanese colleagues while watching a soccer game. And on Tuesday mornings, there was no way he would be found at work. Because he wanted to spend the mornings walking in one of the Milanese street markets nearby campus. "Not because he had to buy anything," Edilio says, smiling, "but because he wanted to meet with the vendors. That was the kind of person Tony was." 

As it all starts with one person, we know it does not end there. The impact Tony made; the richness of his colourful journey is worth stopping for a moment to think about. To celebrate. A man who never took the road closest, easiest or just because it is the beaten path. "A man who showed us what it means to connect with people and guide them, and through this not only created a way for himself but encouraged the curiosity and courage of others," says Gianluca Samsa, Associate Director for Outbound Programmes and Experiential Learning at Cattolica.

It is a direct influence - on all the people who knew him, who got to witness his way of thought and be inspired by his mentorship first-hand. And there is an indirect change. For everyone - researchers, educators, students - who can do something, go somewhere, see something, learn something. All because of Tony's untiring passion to reshape and advance higher education internationalisation. "He was one of the first people who helped the University to tell its story. And today, Università Cattolica is reaching out to share other stories from all over the world." Nicole Brini, International Reputation Manager at Cattolica, tells us.

For Tony, it was never “you have to do this, and you have to do that.” Edilio tells us. "Instead, he wanted you to clarify your questions before you tackle the possible answers. And it was along the way that he told you the importance of each step, rather than talking about the end point. I will use a big word now, but it was Tony's way to educate - to make the journey yours."

Article featured on Worldbound, edition n.7-2022.