OHIO, Leipzig partners talk past, future collaborations at reception, panel discussion
Photographer: Kaitlin OwensGroup shot of the Leipzig delegation with Ohio University representatives
Ohio University joined academic institutions around the world in observing International Education Week (IEW) Nov. 13-17 and embraced the occasion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of its strategic international partnerships and an international friendship whose roots date back to the 19th century.
Members of the OHIO community welcomed Leipzig University President Prof. Dr. med. Beate A. Schücking, along with several representatives of the German institution, to the Athens Campus for a series of events designed to reflect on the universities’ past collaborations and to explore potential future partnerships.
The anniversary was a key part of the evening on Nov. 15 at the Fifth Annual Global Engagement Awards Gala, during which President Schücking and the entire Leipzig University delegation were presented a special award in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the OHIO-Leipzig strategic partnership. (See related article.) While that partnership was formalized in 1992, Ohio University’s relationship with Leipzig University dates back to the 1880s when two future OHIO faculty members, John Pancoast Gordy – the namesake of OHIO’s Gordy Hall – and James E. Le Rossignol, earned their doctorates at Leipzig.
Over the course of the past 25 years, collaborations between the two institutions have grown to include the Departments of History and Chemistry, the Scripps College of Communication, the College of Business, the College of Fine Arts and OHIO’s Global Leadership Center. Those collaborations have paved the way for countless student and faculty exchanges as well as joint research projects and, as President Schücking noted during the Global Engagement Awards Gala, have resulted in “a special story of friendship.”
The celebration of that partnership and friendship continued Nov. 16 with the start of a two-day OHIO-Leipzig Symposium. Featuring German experts from the United States, as well as experts from Leipzig University and Ohio University, the symposium focused on past, present and future collaborations between the two institutions.
“Today is a really important part of the conversation,” Lorna Jean Edmonds, OHIO’s vice provost for global affairs and international studies, said in welcoming everyone to a reception kicking off the symposium. “We very much want to leverage this rich past, the excellence that has been developed through our colleagues working with Leipzig over the past 25 years, but then start to look to the future and how we can make the most of this incredible relationship.”
Joining Edmonds in initiating the conversation were Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis and Leipzig University President Schücking.
“(International Education Week) couldn’t come at a more important time relative to global events that are occurring and how important it is to look at our global community and the way in which we interact with each other in a constructive and positive way and learn to work together collectively to deal with some of our world’s greatest issues,” President Nellis said, commenting that his own international experiences made him “a better person and a better scholar.”
He noted OHIO’s partnerships with many universities, adding, however, that few are as special as the historic relationship the University has had with Leipzig.
“There’s just so much to be proud of today as we celebrate this relationship,” President Nellis said, adding that the specialness of Ohio University is made “even more extraordinary because of our international partners.”
President Nellis also took a moment to thank those in the room for their commitment to international programs and global education partnerships.
“This is a key strategic priority of our institution as we continue to develop as one of our nation’s very prominent public research universities,” he said.
In addressing the audience, President Schücking shared a presentation on Leipzig University, founded in 1409 and one of the world’s oldest universities and the second oldest university in Germany. She also spoke about how the OHIO-Leipzig relationship has evolved.
“Over these 25 years, it has become more than a partnership,” President Schücking said. “It has become a friendship, friendship between faculty and a real strong, lasting relationship. … OHIO is really important in our international relations.”
President Schücking recalled the fond memories she had of visiting the Athens Campus five years ago and shared with the group a conversation she had the day prior with a Leipzig University student studying communication at OHIO.
“I could see how enthusiastic he is and how much he likes to be here,” she said. “And if we carry on this spirit for the next 25 years, I think this will be a good thing for our two institutions.”
Among the special guests at the welcome reception was Consul General Herbert Quelle, who serves the German Consulate Office in Chicago. Quelle works with 13 Midwestern states, including Ohio, and seeks to foster cultural ties between Germany and those states, which he referred to as “the soul and heart of America.”
Quelle touched on two topics of particular importance to him: globalization and foreign languages.
In emphasizing the importance of globalization, Quelle noted the number of business relationships between German entities and those in the United States’ Midwest and, in particular, Ohio and Michigan. Quelle shared that the Midwest will be the focus of efforts starting on German Unity Day 2018, stressing the relevance of trans-Atlantic and especially German-American relations.
Quelle also addressed the need for American universities to encourage the study of foreign language alongside the study of the STEM fields.
“Neither can exist without the other,” he said. “We need to reemphasize the importance of foreign languages within the curriculum, not only at the university level also at high schools.”
The welcome reception concluded with a panel discussion that brought together several of the faculty members and students from both institutions who have participated in cultural exchanges and been instrumental in forming and sustaining the OHIO-Leipzig relationship.
Bob Stewart, director of OHIO’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism who has lead the OHIO-Leipzig partnership from its earliest days, kicked off and facilitated the discussion by describing his first visit to Leipzig in 1992.
“I knew immediately that it was a very special place,” Dr. Stewart said, noting how it opened up new vistas for him and how he wanted both his students and his colleagues to experience it. “Leipzig is like the moon for Ohio University. It’s always there…, bringing light and inspiration.”
Stewart also noted that the OHIO-Leipzig relationship has resulted in at least three marriages among students who have participated in the exchanges.
Dr. Ralf Hoffmann, a professor in Leipzig University’s Department of Chemistry, spoke about his first visit to OHIO in 2002 and how he worked with Dr. Jennifer Hines, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and others to form an agreement between the institutions’ chemistry departments. It was that agreement, he said, that initiated student exchanges that continue today.
“Leipzig is very inspirational as a place to do research,” Dr. Hines said. “At the graduate level, to be able to go and do research in another country is very significant. The students come back really transformed.”
Dr. Hines also spoke of her own exchange experience, going on sabbatical with her family to Leipzig where, she said, the members of the Leipzig University community became like “extended family.”
Dr. Eric Masson, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry who also traveled to Leipzig, talked about the pleasure he’s had to work with students from Leipzig who have come to Ohio University. He also spoke about one of his students who spent a semester studying in Leipzig and liked it so much he stayed an extra week. Dr. Masson described that student as very quiet, shy and serious.
“I went to Leipzig, and I saw a completely different student,” Dr. Masson laughed. “He was extremely happy. … He was shining with joy. … That really broadened his horizon not only in terms of chemistry, … but also in terms of exposure to different cultures and a different environment.”
Dr. Rüdiger Steinmetz, a professor of media science and media culture at Leipzig, talked about the challenges Germany and Leipzig University faced in the earliest days of the OHIO-Leipzig relationship, during a period that he described as “the beginning of the end of the Cold War.”
“You might imagine, for those who are teaching and the students, learning how media in the democratic countries might function,” Dr. Steinmetz said. “With big help from our friends, we got to know that and we learned that. And it was a great time to see for the students how it opened new worlds.”
Dr. Steinmetz spoke of his first visit to Athens in 1993 and shared a few examples of what has resulted from the OHIO-Leipzig relationship since those early days. He noted the establishment of a radio station in Leipzig in 1995 – an idea planted and aided by Stewart – and a recent joint research project, involving Scripps’ Greg Newton, that examined social media being integrated into feedback in television and radio programs in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany.
Among the Leipzig University students who are currently studying at OHIO is Lauren Ramoser, who is completing a one-year internship requirement of Leipzig’s journalism program at WOUB.
“It’s a great working experience,” she said. “And I work with many inspiring people.”
Ramoser shared an experience she had this semester interacting with students from Hong Kong Baptist University who were in Athens to collaborate with Ohio University and Leipzig students on a global capstone project. A group of those students took a daytrip to the Chesterhill Produce Auction in nearby Morgan County where they bid on local produce. The experience helped to form a bond between the students who ended up sharing their produce and cooking a dinner together.
“For that moment, we were just Bobcats,” Ramoser said, adding that the students from Hong Kong Baptist University have invited her to visit them in their country.
Seth Baker, an OHIO student pursuing a master’s degree in international development, spoke about his experience as an undergraduate in Ohio University’s Global Leadership Center (GLC), which provided him the opportunity to travel to Leipzig to work alongside students there on a real-world project involving the crisis in Ukraine.
Baker talked about bonding with his Leipzig roommate, who he continues to stay in touch with, over basketball and the discussions he and his Leipzig counterparts, some of whom were majoring in American studies, engaged in every day.
“I will remember that as long as I am alive,” Baker said, adding that his younger sister is now a second-year GLC student and preparing to travel to Leipzig next spring.
Photographer: Kaitlin OwensLeipzig President Prof. Dr. med. Beate A. Schücking, along with several representatives of her university, visited the Athens Campus
Photographer: Kaitlin OwensDr. M. Duane Nellis spoke to the Leipzig University delegation during their visit