President's Report Masthead
December 31, 2013

German Academic Exchange grant opens doors to STEM students

Binghamton University has long-standing exchange programs with two universities in Germany and Austria – Leipzig since 1991 and Graz since 1974 – but a working group that came together last year hoping to expand international exchange programs in Germany to provide opportunities for students specifically in STEM fields has recently won a grant to help do so.

The grant – a travel grant from the German Academic Exchange Program (DAAD) to launch a study tour to German research institutions for students in the STEM fields – will send five Binghamton faculty and 15 students to Germany in May 2014. “This grant will allow us to pursue strong partnerships with German research universities and institutes in the STEM fields for possible collaborative research, joint graduate student education and research internships for students from both Germany and Binghamton,” said Katharine Krebs, vice provost for international affairs.

“We think our students deserve the opportunity,” said Rosmarie Morewedge, associate professor of German and Russian Studies who has long been faculty director of academic exchange programs with Germany and Austria. One of the principals on the grant that will send 15 students and five faculty to Germany in May, Morewedge said the program will be another important connection and will help “prepare local students for the global workplace, give them language capacities and make them aware of international research opportunities.”

The international experience, coupled with STEM experience, can be very beneficial Morewedge said, as demonstrated by a former student who studied chemistry while at Leipzig. Now at UPenn, “she got her position there in part because of what she was able to do at Leipzig. That challenging experience helped her to get a graduate stipend because of her engagement with international perspectives.”

“Our goal, number one, is that we’re interested in going to Germany to see how some research is done there and to build new academic partnerships,” said Wayne Jones, professor of chemistry and one of the principal investigators on the grant. “At another level, we’re very interested in students seeing different academic cultures and ways they can interact. It’s a mini version of a semester abroad and might give students a sense of going there. We’re also hoping students will be good ambassadors to German students because we would love them to learn about Binghamton and come here to get a degree.”

From the University’s standpoint, students who travel to Germany would also be ambassadors for the program when they return to Binghamton, Jones said.

Binghamton needs to prepare students for international leadership positions, Morewedge said, and this program will allow Binghamton faculty who already have collaborative international relationships to champion additional venues in Germany.

“It’s a pilot program and a start for us that may be duplicated in other departments and other fields,” she said. “It’s a unique opportunity to enrich STEM field education internationally. As a trustee of the DAAD Alumni Association, I have sought to increase funding for DAAD RISE (Research Internships in Science and Engineering) scholarships for STEM fields and underrepresented students in the past. We have a great need in STEM fields for students to have access to such research internships.”

Coupled with the strength in the Leipzig and Graz programs, this is a win-win exchange, said Morewedge, who hopes this pilot is just the beginning. “It would be great to have more STEM-field students in exchanges from the BS to the PhD level to internationalize programs more at Binghamton University and in Leipzig. I would hope LxC (Languages Across the Curriculum) would also grow in this area with the help of German STEM-field exchange students. LxC language resource specialists in German would be able to introduce our students in STEM courses to scientific German.”

While in Germany, students will be accompanied by Jones and Morewedge, as well as Professor of Physics Eric Cotts, Professor of Systems Science and Industrial Engineering Mark Poliks and Assistant Professor of Physics Louis Piper. The group will visit laboratories and scientific institutes, such as at the universities of Leipzig and Bremen and at the Fraunhofer IZM in Berlin. “We hope that our students will discover new perspectives and become part of an international community of scientists,” said Morewedge, who will help with translation and the organization of the collaboration. In addition to scientific exchange and building new partnerships, the group will also visit and experience many German cultural attractions.

The tour is tentatively scheduled for May 19-31, 2014, and will include visits to Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden and Bremen.

A student information session, which drew more than 50 interested students, was held in December. The deadline for applications is Feb. 1, and decisions will be made by Feb. 14.