Higher Education Leader, Business Ethicist, and Organizational Behavior Expert
Fulbright Foreign Student to Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. Ángel Cabrera, Ph.D., is the first native of Spain to serve as president of a U.S. university, initially as president of George Mason University and since 2019, of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). His appointment at Georgia Tech brings his higher education journey in the United States full circle. Cabrera first arrived there as a Fulbright graduate student from Spain. In the decades since, he has dedicated himself to expanding access to higher education and driving academic excellence, and has made his mark as both a business ethicist and as a principled, dynamic higher education leader in Europe and the United States.
“I grew up thinking that being a teacher was the greatest thing anyone can do,” Cabrera told Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine upon becoming president.
He explained that he developed his love for education from his grandfather, who was the only schoolteacher in a poor farming village in the mountains near the Portuguese border. While his grandfather did not have a college degree, he did have a teaching certificate, which earned him the respect of his community. Cabrera’s parents did not have the chance to go to college, but they encouraged their four sons to study hard and pursue the newly available educational opportunities that were opening up in Spain upon the end of the Franco dictatorship.
“In just one generation, we went from a country where very few people could go to college to one pretty much on par with all the developed countries,” Cabrera explained. “All of a sudden, social class and income were not impediments to go to school.”
Driven by an intense intellectual curiosity, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering from Universidad Politécnica of Madrid. There, after doing some research on neural networks, he became fascinated by how people think and solve problems and was inspired to switch from engineering to psychology. He then applied for a Fulbright grant to earn his second master’s degree in cognitive psychology at Georgia Tech, where he went on to complete a Ph.D. He credits the Fulbright Program with launching his academic career in the United States.
“Fulbright is dear to my heart. Thirty years ago, it put me on the path I’m still on today,” said Cabrera.
Cabrera became a leading expert in organizational behavior, and his research on the topic has been cited more than 7,000 times. Cabrera returned to Spain and eventually followed his passion for education to become a professor then dean of the IE Business School in Madrid.
In 2004, he was recruited to be president of Thunderbird School of Global Management (now part of Arizona State University). At Thunderbird, he established the Business Oath of Honor, the first of its kind among business schools worldwide. He worked with the United Nations Global Compact to create the Principles for Responsible Management Education, an initiative that advances sustainable development through management education and has been adopted by more than 800 business schools around the world. Later, he also co-founded the University Global Coalition to align global higher education with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.
His book, Being Global: How to Think, Act, and Lead in a Transformed World (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012), co-authored with Thunderbird colleague Gregory Unruh, examines the skills business leaders need to succeed in a global setting, and ways international teams can stay connected. The book draws from the international experience Cabrera first gained during his Fulbright program.
Cabrera became president of George Mason University in 2012, where he led the institution to become an R1 research university.
The leadership he has demonstrated in academia, business, and civic engagement has earned him widespread accolades and seats on the boards of a variety of organizations.
He is a member of the Institute of International Education’s National Academy for International Education, a think tank enabling practitioners to pool experience, wisdom, and vision to advance the field and make higher education a positive force in an increasingly interconnected world. He also served on the Fulbright Scholar Advisors Board (CIES) and the board of the National Geographic Society.
Shortly after returning to Georgia Tech as its president, Cabrera led the creation of a new mission statement that calls the Institute to “develop leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition.” The new mission led to a new ten year strategic plan founded upon inclusive innovation, one of Cabrera’s core personal principles. The strategic plan seeks to amplify Georgia Tech’s impact by expanding access to more talented individuals of more backgrounds, equipping graduates to lead and make a difference, ensuring that research responds to questions of great consequence, empowering innovators to create accessible solutions, and opening the doors of technology to everyone.
Cabrera’s dedication to expanding access at Georgia Tech mirrors how Fulbright has opened opportunities for him and others. Cabrera reflects on how “Fulbright has provided hundreds of thousands of students, academics, professionals, and artists with matchless opportunities for education, personal development, and global competence. And I’m grateful I can say I am one of them.”