International Education Week

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The German Fulbright Summer Institute program Communicating across Disciplines was back in person for its “most exciting and robust year,” according to Patty Raun, director for the Center for Communicating Science, bringing 26 German students to Virginia Tech. Over the summer, they immersed themselves in American culture and the college campus experience in Blacksburg.

In 2015, David Clubb, director of the Cranwell International Center, went to Germany for a program for international education administrators and a year later he was awarded funding to bring the Fulbright Summer Institute to Virginia Tech.

Two years later, approximately 24 undergraduate students from universities all over Germany began arriving each summer in Washington, D.C., to take part in the intensive three-week program. They spend several days getting acclimated with each other and introduced to life in the United States by visiting places in the D.C. area such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the U.S. Capitol. 

This year, the group of students and Virginia Tech faculty and staff were invited to the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, where they were addressed by Michael Hasper, minister of communication and culture. “To begin with, I would say that the title of your summer institute could just as well serve as the motto of the Communication and Culture Department, which I lead — or even the embassy as a whole,” said Hasper, “because communicating across disciplines and differences lies at the heart of international diplomacy.”


The group of German Fulbright students and the participating Virginia Tech faculty and administrators in front of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany. Photo courtesy of Carrie Kroehler.

Hasper was not only correct about the title, but he also hit upon the very heart of the program. The core academic component of all five years of the program, Communicating Science: Communication, Collaboration, and Connection across Differences and Disciplines, was intentionally designed to help German students make connections across cultures.

Raun and Clubb worked with Carrie Kroehler, associate director for the Center for Communicating Science, Rachel Fitzgerald from the Global Education Office, and the other Cranwell personnel to create the program. The curricular content was adapted from Raun’s graduate-level Communicating Science course specifically for the German Fulbright program with Daniel Bird Tobin. Tobin is a faculty fellow with the Center for Communicating Science, which is housed administratively in the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment, who joined the teaching team for several iterations of the program.

“It’s truly been a collaborative effort from the start,” said Kroehler. “We have worked together to design co-curricular and extracurricular activities that introduce the students to the United States, our region, and Virginia Tech, while also supporting the curricular content of the program.”

“We learned so much about the way our work can be applied in the context of a cultural exchange program,” said Raun. “We love working with those inspiring students every summer, and we look forward to new opportunities to work across differences, borders, and boundaries of all kinds.”

As part of experiencing American college life, the students’ days were filled with visits to various places that included Smithfield Plantation, the School of Performing Arts, Virginia Tech’s Drone Park and Project Wing, Kentland Farm in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Advanced Engineering Design Lab in the College of Engineering.  

In addition to the on-campus activities, the students were able to enjoy living in Southwest Virginia by taking hikes, tubing down the New River, attending a baseball game in Salem, and shopping at the Blacksburg Farmers Market.

Before departing, the German students shared their experiences at a bonfire at the home of Clubb; presented their end projects, which were styled after TED Talks; and received gifts and certificates at a farewell dinner. This year, one of the students gave Clubb, Raun, and Kroehler each a personal letter from another student who had participated in the program in 2017. “They were hand-delivered to make sure we got them,” said Clubb. “That is how impactful the program was to him.”

According to Clubb, the German Fulbright programs only continue for five years. Having run since 2017, Communicating across Disciplines was planned but canceled in 2020, delivered virtually in 2021, and then completed its fifth summer this year. However, the German Fulbright Commission decided in October to extend the program at Virginia Tech one more year.

“We are so honored that the Fulbright program has chosen to work with us for so many years (actually longer than is their norm) and that even through the pandemic the program grew and developed,” said Raun. “We are moved by what our communities learn from the more than 100 German students who come to study here with us in Blacksburg. It is an educational exchange in the truest sense.”

"It's been a wonderful opportunity for us to see that our approach, developed here on campus, can be used successfully with groups of students from another country and culture to help them connect and communicate across those national and cultural differences,” said Kroehler. “We would welcome other opportunities to work with the international community that the Cranwell Center engages with."

“I would like to thank Patricia Raun, Carolyn J. Kroehler, and Daniel Bird Tobin who created a great learning environment and taught us how to communicate more directly, spontaneously and personally,” said Mirko Prastalo, one of the German students. “Especially from a professional standpoint, it was all about facilitating great communication across disciplines, which will help me a lot in my future career path.”

“I am very grateful for that intercultural and interdisciplinary experience and for the ongoing support of Daniel Bird Tobin and Carolyn J. Kroehler,” said Theresa Müller, another of the German students. “Considering the extracurricular activities, I would like to thank Robert Emmett who taught and showed us so much of the beautiful state of Virginia and who always had great advice on how to handle what life throws at you. Special thanks to Dr. Patricia Raun, who was not only my instructor but became a true role model for me, teaching me that I can be a strong woman and still show my emotions.”

“These short-term experiences can be powerful,” said Clubb. “Many of these students may never have the opportunity to travel internationally, or even out of Germany again, so this experience is invaluable to many of them.”

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