Ariel Armony: A Man of the World

Issue Date: 
April 13, 2015

Pitt’s University Center for International Studies has a new director—a Pitt alumnus who has traveled the globe. Ariel Armony, who also is Pitt’s senior director of international programs, is embracing this latest chapter of his life with the vigor and passion that stem from his Argentinian roots.

Ariel Armony (Photo by Emily O'Donnell)“I like to think of myself as Pitt’s Chief Global Officer,” said Armony, who notes that Pitt’s Board of Trustees made “an extraordinary decision” recently by pledging to extend the University’s global reach as part of its set of updated priorities for the institution. Given that Pitt has been a pioneer in international studies and global outreach for decades, the extension of these efforts signals another leap forward. 

Armony says his most important challenge is to advance that strategy.

“We need to engage with the world,” he says. “My view of global engagement is that it’s a two-way relationship. I want to see our study-abroad students, for example, engaging more with the communities they find. They should be listening and learning, and helping to develop solutions.” 

Born and raised in Argentina, Armony witnessed economic and political instability firsthand. Part of his passion for international studies stems from his childhood in a country governed by a dictatorship that eventually transitioned to a democracy in 1983 as he became an adult. During his undergraduate years at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, in the 1980s, he was actively involved in Argentina’s cultural renaissance, worked as a journalist, and acted and directed in a theater company (where, while teaching theater in a women’s prison, he was surprised to discover there were still political prisoners jailed there).

It’s not surprising, then, that Armony appreciates the act of voting more than the average citizen. “Election day is a glorious day,” he says with gusto. “I try to convey that to young people, who take it for granted.”

His new role with UCIS is not Armony’s first experience at Pitt.  He moved to the United States with his wife, Mirna Kolbowski, in 1990, to earn a master’s degree in international affairs at Ohio University, and then he intended to return home. But as he completed his graduate degree, Armony became strongly interested in politics and wanted to learn more. So, he continued his education at Pitt, where he earned a PhD in political science and a certificate in Latin American Studies in 1998. During this time, Kolbowski worked for the Pitt-based Latin American Studies Association. 

Afterward, Armony served as a professor and director of the Latin American Studies Program at Colby College, a Fulbright Scholar at Nankai University in China, and a residential fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He has been invited to speak before a wide range of groups, such as the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University.

The couple’s travels also led to Florida, where Armony recently headed up the University of Miami Center for Latin American Studies. When the Pitt search committee for the UCIS position came calling, Armony mentioned to his wife there was a new job to consider. She quickly said,” Wait, I won’t live anywhere in the country but in two places—Washington, D.C., or Pittsburgh.”

So here they are again, and Kolbowski is working as a financial administrator at the Latin American Studies Association.  

Armony is already immersed in work at the center’s busy offices on the fourth floor of Posvar Hall. A typical day might include meetings with deans, the provost, a video conference with leaders of the Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute, and lunch with Eric Shiner, director of The Warhol, a member of the UCIS Board of Visitors and a holder of a Pitt certificate in Asian Studies.

Armony is determined to spread the story about Pitt’s role as a key global player. 

“The degree of international collaboration in research projects between Pitt faculty and top researchers around the world is just part of it,” Armony says. “We have centers here that command a lot of prestige. Our study abroad programs are very strong and are growing like crazy, as is the number of certificates we award in different areas.” 

Armony is bringing new ideas to the table, too . . .“breaking the silos and bringing together different areas in innovative interactions,” similar to his own expertise in Chinese relations with Latin America. He wants to explore new models of funding and make study abroad programs available to as many students as possible, especially those with fewer resources. 

Armony is doing all of this in a city he loves. “I went to a crepe place on South Craig Street and saw young people from all over the globe interacting,” he says. “It felt more international than Miami! In Pittsburgh, you still feel the roughness of the Steel City mixed with hip entrepreneurship. It’s a very interesting blend.” Now, the Argentinian is adding his own talent and verve to the mix.