Grant creates opportunities for study, research in Germany

By University Communications
July 31, 2015
UW-Stout student Brenna Lesnar, back center, enjoys a trip to Heidelberg, Germany.

Photo: Brenna Lesnar, back center, enjoys a trip to Heidelberg, Germany.

Since 2011, more than a dozen faculty and staff have said auf wiedersehen — temporarily — to University of Wisconsin-Stout bound for Germany to teach, guest-lecture and explore related opportunities.

The destination: Hochschule Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt, known in Germany as the City of Science. The city, about 150,000 people, is south of Frankfurt in the central region of the country.

UW-Stout, Wisconsin's Polytechnic University, has an applied learning mission similar to Hochschule Darmstadt's.

In the next four years, the schools' connection is expected to become even stronger because of an approximately $1 million grant. Earlier this year, the German Academic Exchange Service — DAAD — chose UW-Stout, UW-Platteville, Purdue University, Penn State-Harrisburg and University of Massachusetts-Lowell to take part.

Students, faculty and staff from all five universities will have opportunities to study and do research through 2018 at Hochschule Darmstadt by applying for minigrants from the main fund.

Minigrants are available in many categories, including four grants targeting students.

In fact, a UW-Stout student is in Darmstadt this summer on a travel scholarship through DAAD. Brenna Lesnar, a sophomore from Zimmerman, Minn., is taking animation and game design courses during the spring semester, which runs from March through July. At UW-Stout, she is majoring in entertainment design with a concentration in animation and comics.

Also, a faculty member has been at Hochschule Darmstadt since September, predating the grant. Wendy Stary, an associate professor in plastics engineering, is teaching and providing lab support for a practicum course. She also is translating course materials so they are accessible for German- or English-speaking students.

"The objective of the DAAD grant is to create a strategic partnership between the two universities to increase our collaboration and provide transatlantic opportunities for faculty, staff and students to study, work and conduct research," said Andria Morse, an education abroad coordinator for UW-Stout's Office of International Education.

Personal, academic growth

Lesnar has met many other international students at Hochschule Darmstadt and has used the opportunity to travel to nearby countries.

"Along with German students, there is a big community here of students from all around the world. There's so much to learn, even from just having a conversation with another student. It's exciting to meet people from an entirely different culture," Lesnar said.

The academic experience has been valuable, she said. She is working with other students on a semester long animation project.

"The best part has been learning about my own capabilities and pushing them. The experience of studying abroad is really what you make of it, so pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and doing things I never would have done before has been amazing," Lesnar said.

The grant provides about $800 in any given semester for each of two UW-Stout students to travel to Germany for a semester to study.

Up to 10 students could have their travel and some daily expenses covered via the grant as part of a faculty-led experience.

The grant also provides funding to study at Hochschule Darmstadt's International Summer University, which focuses on energy-efficient and sustainable buildings.

Positive teaching experience

Stary also has been pleased with her teaching experience, which will end in July.

Previous plastics engineering collaborations between the two universities have "createda matrix of courses that would be transferable between the two programs," Stary said.

"I think there is a great opportunity here for students and faculty alike who want to gain an international perspective," said Stary, whose two children have been attending German schools while she's there.

"I have been made to feel very welcome. Even the students who are a bit frustrated trying to learn in English have been very polite. My colleagues here went out of their way when we arrived —and throughout our stay —to make sure we had what we needed and to assist us in any way possible. They have also invited us on multiple occasions to visit them in their homes or on various excursions around Darmstadt," she said.

Stary has been networking with German companies about possible internship possibilities for UW-Stout students.

"We have made many friends and learned to speak enough of the language to communicate with the rare people who don't speak English. Most do. It truly has been an amazing experience," Stary said.

More opportunities

Although UW-Stout is not funding visits by Hochschule Darmstadt, the collaboration remains a two-way street.

A research scholar from Hochschule Darmstadt, for example, is at UW-Stout this summer, and several German students are expected on campus in the fall.

Prior to the grant award, former UW-Stout Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen in fall 2013 signed a memorandum of understanding with Hochschule Darmstadt to promote student and faculty exchanges.

For more information about the grant or to apply, go to the website or contact Morse, morsea@uwstout.edu, 715-232-1355.