Sara Steinert Borella will join Outreach and International Affairs as the new executive director of the Steger Center for International Scholarship in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland, effective Aug. 1.

As director, Borella will develop collaborative opportunities for global education programs, faculty workshops, community engagement, alumni reunions, and institutional networking as the center resumes academic programming.

“The Steger Center is Virginia Tech’s European academic center, providing a base of operations for a growing number of undergraduate and graduate international education programs. Students who live and study at the center engage with the local and regional culture, creating a learning laboratory that goes far beyond the traditional classroom experience,” said Don Hempson, associate vice president for international affairs. “With her wealth of administrative and student-centered experience, I am excited to bring Sara aboard. Her vision for the center as not just a physical structure but a setting that connects students and faculty with the wider ecosystem of Europe’s universities, cultural centers, and business communities will help elevate Virginia Tech’s mission of global engagement, discovery, and service.”

Steinert Borella has worked in higher education for more than 30 years, most recently as vice president and dean of academic affairs at Franklin University Switzerland, a liberal arts university in the nearby Swiss city of Lugano. At Franklin, she was responsible for all undergraduate and graduate academic programs, including the curriculum and faculty. She also served as a professor of comparative literary and cultural studies. Her teaching and research have focused on such topics as 19th- and 20th-century European literature, food studies, mobility and exile, and travel writing.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in French with a minor in German from Bates College. She earned a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Brandeis University.

Steinert Borella is no stranger to Virginia Tech students. For nearly a decade, she has grown an important partnership between Franklin University and the Pamplin College of Business program in Lugano. Most recently, she helped repatriate students during the outset of the pandemic in March 2020 and supported the return of programming to Lugano this spring. 

She said that global experiential education, and in particular the programs at the Steger Center, offer Virginia Tech students the opportunity to embark on a transformational experience. “Studying abroad in southern Switzerland opens you up to new perspectives, new cultures, and new ideas,” she said. “Studying in Riva San Vitale gives students a chance to immerse themselves in the local culture and participate in local service opportunities, making good on Virginia Tech’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).”

One of her goals, she said, is to make study abroad more accessible to more students. “A big part of my job will be to work closely with faculty and administrators from a variety of schools and programs across campus to integrate opportunities at the Steger Center into their major and minor areas. This means offering specific courses in a regular rotation, creating local partnerships that can complement work being done in Virginia, and building opportunities for experiential learning that students can only get here in Switzerland.”

In the wake of the pandemic, all study abroad programs, including those at the Steger Center, were canceled last year. Anticipating that the spread of COVID-19 will continue to diminish and international travel restrictions will continue to loosen, Hempson said Virginia Tech is planning to relaunch programs at the center in May with meaningful and practical application of risk mitigation strategies. Many of these strategies were piloted with great success during the Lugano program this spring.

The university has used the closure to give the center — housed in the historic 18th-century Villa Maderni — a much needed refresh. Current projects include renovating the restrooms and shower facilities, adding new fire doors, leveling the floors, and doing historic preservation throughout the villa, including cleaning and protecting massive frescos on the ceilings.

“The Steger Center has such a great history here in Ticino, and at the same time, the center has so much potential. I am especially excited to work with new colleagues in Blacksburg and Riva San Vitale, to strengthen relationships with programs that frequent the center regularly and to develop new programs and opportunities for students and faculty alike,” Steinert Borella said.