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A Lively Network

The University of Freiburg has a key partnership with Penn State University

Freiburg, Mar 08, 2017

A Lively Network

Photo: Annemarie Mountz/Flickr

An international partner who we can exchange people and ideas with in many areas; who supports applications for funding programs; and with whom we can conduct joint research and teaching in core subjects: The University of Freiburg has maintained a key partnership with Pennsylvania State University in the United States since 2010. Freiburg also has key partnerships with Nagoya University in Japan, Nanjing University in China, and Université de Strasbourg in France. Claudia Füßler presents these partnerships in a series. Here: Penn State.

The link with Penn State University goes back to 1998. The University of Freiburg’s then Faculty of Forestry Science was the first to sign an agreement with the American university. “But we know that there was lively unofficial cooperation in Philosophy, where doctoral students were sent back and forth, and joint event were held,” says Anja Hausmann, deputy head of the University’s International Office.  She maintains the partnership with Penn State University.

Old Main, Penn State’s first building of major significance, serves as the university’s administrative center, housing the offices of the president and other officials. Photo: Annemarie Mountz/Flickr

A closer look told the people at Freiburg University that they had large areas of overlap with the US institution, particularly in the area of sustainability. It was the perfect basis for close cooperation. There has been a university-wide student exchange program between the two institutions since 2011. “In addition there is an exchange of students in the same year between our University College and Schreyer Honors College at Penn State” says Hausmann. “The students are together for a year; they spend half a year in Freiburg and half a year in Pennsylvania.”

The two universities cooperate in subjects such as Chemistry, Biology, and in the new field of Urban and Global Health. Researchers at the respective Engineering faculties are also in contact. “Many things work at a multidisciplinary level, which you can’t easily define,” Hausmann says.

Just over two years ago, the anthropologist Professor Ursula Wittwer-Backofen visited Penn State to find out ways of cooperating in the field of Global Health. Among the things Wittwer-Backofen was working on was a Master’s program to train students in matters of big-city health. “We found that what Penn State was doing in that area fitted very well with what we had just started to build here,” she explains. Their collaboration has developed into a “very lively” network. The joint work currently focuses on two topics - urbanization and health, which is researched intensively in Freiburg, and infectious diseases and chronic illness, which is a major theme for the Penn State researchers.

Exploiting Synergies

In this way, the collaboration expands learning opportunities - what Freiburg doesn’t have, Penn State may well offer, and vice versa. Innovations in research can move ahead faster and synergies in major instrumentation be exploited; students get better training and at the same time become citizens of the world.

Hausmann believes that the staff exchanges are also very important. Staff members go to the other university for one or two weeks, getting an impression of the partner institution’s administrative structure. “The members of staff gain new insights and learn to deal in creative ways with the bureaucratic problems which are bound to come up when two such large universities collaborate with one another.”

Hausmann thinks the partnership with Penn State is on the right track. Students, lecturers, and other staff can go on exchange, they conduct research together, and the partners’ networks can be used as well as their specialist knowledge in either location. “In the long term it is a sustainable connection,” says Hausmann. Part of the success is that the two universities have a similar view of themselves. “The people at Penn State have a great passion for what they do, and like us, sustainability is close to their hearts.”

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