International learning, research invigorated through strategic partnerships

Dec. 1, 2016 3 p.m.

One of the cornerstones of Princeton's focus on international research and learning has been its strategic partnerships with universities in Germany, Japan and Brazil. The partnerships with Humboldt University, University of Tokyo and University of São Paulo were established four years ago as part of Princeton's ongoing internationalization efforts.

During this time, 48 collaborative academic projects have already received support through Princeton's respective partnerships with the three universities. The University continues to support new projects with these partners abroad, with the most recent calls for proposals from faculty issued this week. The partnerships are among Princeton's many international programs and connections with universities around the world that include study abroad programs, faculty fellowships, research collaborations and global scholars networks.

"Our three strategic partnerships enhance the global reach of Princeton's teaching and research mission," said Anastasia Vrachnos, vice provost for international affairs and operations. "I have been amazed by the variety of ways that these partnerships have fostered creative faculty research and teaching projects, as well as new learning opportunities for our graduate and undergraduate students."

	International Partnerships "Humboldt University; University of Tokyo; University of Sao Paulo"

Princeton's agreements with HumboldtTokyo and São Paulo are based on the mutual goals of supporting international research and teaching collaborations, new international learning opportunities, and overseas exchanges for undergraduate and graduate students.

The partnerships are defined by collaboration and reciprocity across a range of disciplines. Projects supported through the partnerships are two-way exchanges, facilitating the sharing of ideas and information among faculty, students and staff from the universities.

"We consider this building of networks and flows of people and ideas to be the foundation of Princeton's international strategy," Vrachnos said.

"A strategic partnership means we can develop a long-term and significant association with a university in another country," said Edwin Turner, director of the Council for International Teaching and Research and a professor of astrophysical sciences. "The institutional support and structures provided through the partnerships establish meaningful connections, and also make it much easier for people and ideas to cross borders from one campus to the other."

While the universities provide administrative support, individual faculty initiatives are the heart of the strategic partnerships. Faculty from Princeton and a partnering institution typically develop a joint project that may include collaborating on research, co-teaching courses, creating new research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students, or establishing faculty and student exchange programs.

"We've seen many more joint projects between Princeton and international faculty; more joint publications; more student exchanges back and forth; and even visits from administrators who have spent time on each other's campuses learning about higher education from another country's perspective," Turner said. "Students from Princeton who have traveled to a partner university, and those students from abroad who have come here, very often will tell you it has been a highlight of their undergraduate career or that it has transformed their graduate research."

Below are some highlights from Princeton's respective partnerships with Humboldt, Tokyo and São Paulo including selected examples of the many projects from each partnership over the past four years. More information about all of the strategic partnership projects is available on the International Princeton website.  

Humboldt University-Princeton

Key facts: 

  • The partnership has funded 20 proposals spanning departments such as classics, electrical engineering, German, history, molecular biology, neuroscience, philosophy, and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
  • The collaboration has resulted in academic publications and research advancements in each of the participating fields, and also paved the way for exchanges of undergraduate and graduate students as well as innovative teaching arrangements.
  • The 2017 Princeton-Fung Global Forum, which will be held in Berlin this March, is another example of intellectual exchanges between Princeton and Humboldt. Faculty from both universities, along with other professionals, will participate in the forum. The Princeton staff team organizing the conference also has received support from Humboldt staff with on-the-ground logistics planning and outreach for the upcoming conference.
  • Delegations of faculty and staff from Humboldt have visited Princeton on trips in 2015 and 2016, representing a wide range of interests such as life sciences, diversity and inclusion, and internationalization strategies and operations.
International Partnerships Adam Lerner from Princeton, Erik Zhang from Princeton and David Heering from Humboldt

During the past four years, 48 collaborative projects have been supported through Princeton's respective strategic partnerships with Humboldt University in Berlin, the University of Tokyo and the University of São Paulo. One such project brought together philosophy faculty and graduate students from Princeton and Humboldt for an international seminar and workshop, including graduate students (from left to right) Adam Lerner from Princeton, Erik Zhang from Princeton and David Heering from Humboldt. (Photo courtesy of Michael Smith, Department of Philosophy)

Example project: "Normativity: Its nature, history and varieties"

Part of the approach in establishing strategic partnerships was to build on existing connections between faculty at Princeton and universities abroad. For example, philosophers at Princeton and Humboldt already had strong ties when Princeton's Michael Smith and Humboldt's Thomas Schmidt developed a new project through the strategic partnership agreement.

"We wanted to harness the momentum that already existed and encourage future research collaborations," said Smith, the McCosh Professor of Philosophy.

They designed a graduate seminar that brought together faculty and graduate students to work on topics of common research. Princeton and Humboldt graduate students attended the two-part course, "Ethical Rationalism vs. Sentimentalism," last summer. Schmidt and Smith jointly taught the class, with the first half taking place at Humboldt and the second half at Princeton. Students also worked directly with professors from both institutions on their research.

International Partnerships philosophy graduate students from Princeton and Humboldt at Pfaueninsel

Philosophy graduate students from Princeton and Humboldt universities visit an old German castle located on Pfaueninsel ("Peacock Island") just outside Berlin. The students spent last summer in Berlin and Princeton for a two-part graduate seminar organized by Princeton's Michael Smith and Humboldt's Thomas Schmidt. (Photo courtesy of Michael Smith, Department of Philosophy)

Students in the seminar also attended the Humboldt-Princeton Graduate Student Workshop, an annual workshop previously established by the two philosophy departments. The workshop, held this year on the theme of "Normativity: Its nature, history and varieties,” was also held in two halves, the first in Berlin at the beginning of the summer and the other in Princeton at the end. The workshop allowed the graduate students from the seminar to discuss their research with additional faculty and students from each institution working on related topics.

"Participating in the Humboldt-Princeton seminar was a highly enriching experience for me," said Princeton graduate student Erik Zhang. "In discussing philosophy with students at Humboldt, both inside and outside the seminar rooms, I was exposed to many fresh perspectives. It was an excellent venue for students from both institutions to exchange ideas regarding their current research interests."

The summer session was invigorating for Princeton Ph.D. candidate Adam Lerner.

"It's the most fun I've had talking philosophy since I was an undergraduate and every philosophical idea under the sun was fresh and new and exciting," he said. "We got to experience Berlin, to bond with the Humboldt students and faculty, and to do philosophy nonstop. It was amazing."

Stephanie Elsen, a graduate student from Humboldt, appreciated the connections made with Princeton colleagues.

"I learned a lot from the conversations with each student," she said. "I had a great time in Princeton and really enjoyed the friendly atmosphere. It was a nice balance between doing philosophy in the formal setting of a seminar with time to explore campus and Princeton."

University of Tokyo-Princeton

Key facts:

  • The partnership has funded 14 proposals spanning disciplines such as architecture, astrophysics, East Asian studies, geosciences, mathematics and more.
  • The University of Tokyo held a "Princeton Day" last March to welcome a delegation of Princeton administrators and faculty, celebrate the partnership, highlight key scholarly collaborations and projects, and assess the strengths of the partnership and identify areas of improvement. Princeton also held a "University of Tokyo Day" on campus at the beginning of the partnership.
  • The partnership has included frequent undergraduate and graduate exchanges, and included staff visits from the international offices of each university.
International Partnerships; University of Tokyo holds Princeton Day

The University of Tokyo held a "Princeton Day" last March to welcome a delegation of Princeton administrators and faculty to Japan. The event celebrated the international strategic partnership between Princeton and the University of Tokyo, which has included frequent undergraduate and graduate exchanges, as well as a staff exchange program. (Photo by Keren Fedida, Council for International Teaching and Research)

Example project: "Toward immersive Asian studies: A collaborative undergraduate exchange program for the Todai-Princeton partnership"

David Leheny, Princeton's Henry Wendt III '55 Professor of East Asian Studies, started his career as a research associate at the University of Tokyo and has close connections with colleagues there. So he jumped at the chance to develop a joint project with the University of Tokyo (commonly known as Todai). In 2013, Leheny developed a three-year project with Jin Sato, professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies on Asia at the University of Tokyo.

"I've always been on the lookout to create opportunities to expand students' knowledge of the region and access to the region, more or less seamlessly into their Princeton degrees," Leheny said.

The collaboration included developing the class "Dilemmas of Development in Asia," taught at Princeton by Leheny and Sato; faculty and researcher exchanges between Princeton's Department of East Asian Studies and Todai's Institute of Advanced Studies on Asia; and undergraduate student exchanges that enabled Todai students to spend six weeks auditing classes at Princeton and Princeton students to participate in a summer research program in Tokyo.

"The strategic partnership model meant that we had top-level support at both universities," Leheny said. "Setting up this kind of program focused on undergraduate teaching and research is a huge endeavor, and having the backing of the strategic partnership gave us a lot of confidence that we would get the support we needed. I'm not sure we would have tried such a project otherwise."

Sato said the project was perspective-changing for Todai and Princeton students, as well as for himself.

"From the initiation of the project, Professor Leheny and I tried to emphasize the idea of mutual immersion, and I think that created impact on both students and faculty," Sato said. "Co-leading the class at Princeton had a significant effect on improving my teaching skills. The Princeton students were amazing." Sato later returned to Princeton to co-teach a different class on environmental science and policy with David Wilcove, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs.

International Partnerships University of Tokyo Mariana Medrano, Amanda Chang, Benjamin Tso and Brittany Lopetrone listen to Sumie Sanjo

Princeton undergraduates participated in a summer program at the University of Tokyo in 2015 and 2016 as part of the universities' international strategic partnership. The 2016 session focused on environmental issues and students learned about the devastating impacts of Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Here, Princeton undergraduates (standing left to right) Mariana Medrano, Amanda Chang, Benjamin Tso and Brittany Lopetrone listen to Sumie Sanjo (seated) talk about how her family was affected by the tsunami. (Photo courtesy of Haruko Wakabayashi)

The highlight for Princeton students was a summer program in 2015 and 2016 at the University of Tokyo. The first summer focused on the theme "War, Memory and Identity" and included a trip to Hiroshima during the 70th anniversary of atomic bomb drop on the city. The second summer's theme was "People, Nature and Environment" and included visits to Japanese cities devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The Princeton students, who represented a range of majors, attended weekly seminars with Todai faculty, conducted research under the mentorship of a Todai adviser and had opportunities to exchange ideas with Japanese students during seminars and field trips around the country. The program was led by Haruko Wakabayashi, a frequent lecturer in Princeton's Department of East Asian Studies.

"There were students who were in Japan for the first time, students who did not speak Japanese and students who had never taken a class in East Asian studies," Wakabayashi said. "It was rewarding to see how the experience in Japan expanded students' views and research methods, and also had an influence on their studies back at Princeton. They were exposed to methods and perceptions that may be different than what they are familiar with in the U.S., and really grew as independent researchers."

Princeton senior Amanda Chang, an ecology and environmental biology major, said her time in Japan this past summer had a great influence on her work.

"The program really helped put me in touch with professors and researchers to find a field site for my senior thesis research. I also got to interview several academics about environmental restoration efforts just outside of Tokyo (And I don't even speak a word of Japanese!)," Chang said. "I didn't know all that much about Japanese people or their culture before going and I ended up making great friends from Todai."

While this particular project has come to the end of its grant, Leheny called the experience very successful and hopes to find ways to continue a collaboration in other forms.

Sato, of the University of Tokyo, agreed. "Small-scale but in-depth exchanges such as these can be the firm foundation for the future of these two great universities," he said.

University of São Paulo-Princeton

Key facts:

  • The partnership has funded 14 proposals spanning disciplines including architecture, civil and environmental engineering, global health and health policy, Latin American studies, plasma physics, and more.
  • The partnership has promoted exchanges of students and faculty through teaching and research projects.
  • Top administrators from each university have visited each other's campuses to confirm the strong ties between the two schools, including University of São Paulo President Marco Antonio Zago's visit to Princeton last April.
International Partnerships Sao Paolo with Alexander Niewiarowski

Alexander Niewiarowski, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering at Princeton, presents his project at a reception on campus. Niewiarowski spent a summer doing research at the University of São Paulo as part of a collaboration between Sigrid Adriaenssens, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton, and Ruy Marcelo de Oliveira Pauletti, associate professor at São Paulo's Polytechnic School. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Niewiarowski, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering)

Example project: "Affordable, sustainable infrastructure for emerging megacities"

Márcio Sartorelli Venâncio de Souza credits the strategic partnership between the University of São Paulo (USP) and Princeton with changing the course of his academic life. Souza is an undergraduate at USP and spent last summer at Princeton conducting research in the lab of Sigrid Adriaenssens, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

"Last year, Professor Adriaenssens gave a lecture in Brazil and I started learning more about efficient and sustainable structures. I was very interested in the topic but never had the opportunity to study it," Souza said. "As she spoke, I thought 'Oh my gosh, this is exactly what I want to work on.'"

Adriaenssens was in Brazil as part of a collaboration with Ruy Marcelo de Oliveira Pauletti, associate professor at the Polytechnic School at the University of São Paulo. The professors are working on a strategic partnership project focused on innovative, efficient and affordable strategies for the design of urban environments. The work builds on their pilot project about the computational design of sustainable urban infrastructures.

"The heart of our work was the exchange of people and ideas," Adriaenssens said. "Our first project included: short-term exchanges between Princeton and USP graduate students and undergraduates; Professor Pauletti's four-month stay at Princeton as a visiting professor; my visits to USP; lectures delivered on both campuses; meetings with other faculty members and workshops organized at both universities; as well as the publication of a joint journal article and the organization of a session at the conference 'Structural Membranes 2015' in Barcelona."

Pauletti said it has been a fruitful collaboration.

"Professor Adriaenssens and I share many affinities in our research on light structures, such as shells, cables and membranes. We both have structural engineering backgrounds with a broader interest in design and how these structures can help provide more sustainable urban environments," he said. "All of the activities we conducted through the partnership are attracting new students to the field and we have great expectations for the next phase of our project."

Alexander Niewiarowski, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering at Princeton, took Pauletti's class on pre-stressed structural systems at Princeton and also traveled to São Paulo over the summer to work with the professor in more depth.

"I think the partnership has been a great opportunity to make new connections and accelerate the pace of my own work," Niewiarowski said. "Professor Pauletti and I remain in frequent conversation regarding my research. I have no doubts that the partnership will have lasting benefits for me and other students involved."

International Partnerships at Sao Paulo Alexander Niewiarowski, Tracy Huynh, Oliveira Pauletti,  Sigrid Adriaenssens

Last spring, Niewiarowski (third from right) built a Costa surface sculpture with Tracy Huynh (second from left), Victor Charpentier (second from right) and Xi Li (far right) as part of a graduate class at Princeton taught by visiting professor Pauletti (third from left). Pauletti and Adriaenssens (far left) are working on an international strategic partnership project focused on innovative, efficient and affordable strategies for the design of urban environments. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Niewiarowski, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering)