It has been over 20 years since a partnership began between a private research university in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and a technical university in Dortmund, Germany and yet, it seems as though the work has just begun.

The relationship with Technische Universität Dortmund, or TU Dortmund University, is the longest institutional partnership Lehigh University has had. Lehigh has had a student exchange relationship with Dortmund since 1999, regularly hosting engineering students from Dortmund for one semester, and most recently sending Lehigh students to Dortmund for a summer program with tracks in engineering and German and European studies.

Barbara Schneider, the director of the International Office at TU Dortmund, has been working there for 15 years and said that its partnership with Lehigh has been one of the longest lasting for them as well. She said that while student involvement has been a big focus of the partnership, it started with the relationship between TU Dortmund and Lehigh faculty and administrative staff.

Lehigh and TU Dortmund faculty have collaborated on research throughout the partnership. Currently there is a shared research study on the topic of entrepreneurial mindset being done by faculty at both institutions.

“Over the last three or four years, there have been individual contacts on different levels,” Schneider said. “Myself and my colleagues have been able to talk with many people, including Lisa Getzler, Cheryl Matherly and Stacy Burger from Lehigh. It is one thing to meet virtually, but it is another to be able to meet your colleagues face to face.”

Lisa Getzler, executive director of the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation, said that conversations with Schneider about the foundational beliefs of Dortmund and Lehigh programs has been instrumental in the inter-institutional collaboration.

“We saw a great alignment between both universities and began to seek ways in which students could benefit from the partnership,” Getzler said. “Since we started these conversations, a number of similarities between how we teach entrepreneurship and how we teach innovation have arisen. These have helped us to make our programming as innovative and effective, on both ends, as possible.”

From Faculty Partnerships to Student Exchange

In the years that the partnership has been active, students from both institutions have been able to participate in learning and internship opportunities. According to institutional data from TU Dortmund University, 44 Dortmund students have studied at Lehigh and 26 Lehigh students have studied at Dortmund since 2008.

Schneider said that she feels that student mobility has been instrumental in helping the partnership to be as strong as possible.

“If you exchange students, you have a need to talk because you have to talk about all the logistics that are involved. This is why student exchange is one of the pillars of a relationship, along with faculty cooperation and other aspects,” Schneider said.

TU Dortmund students have participated in the Iacocca Institute’s Global Village program and the Lehigh@NasdaqCenter’s Global Entrepreneurship Fellowship program.

The Global Village program ordinarily occurs for five weeks in Bethlehem, with students participating in an entrepreneurship and leadership program. In 2020, the Village moved online, with five Dortmund students participating. These students will hopefully join the in-person Village in June 2021 in Bethlehem.

Laura Hope, the study and internships abroad coordinator for outbound students in TU Dortmund University’s International Office, said that students have enjoyed the Global Village program. She added that they aren’t necessarily students who would have wanted to study abroad for a full semester in the United States due to the expenses; education in Germany is less expensive than in the U.S.

“We’ve seemed to see that the students who apply are the ones who have heard from someone else how life changing the program was. Every single time a student has participated in Global Village, they have echoed this, which I find to be funny since it is only five weeks long,” Hope said.

From the Lehigh side, students have been able to study abroad at TU Dortmund and work in Dortmund’s Ruhr metropolitan area through the Iacocca International Internship program.

A New Partnership in Entrepreneurship Education

Another aspect of the Dortmund-Lehigh partnership is the University Alliance Ruhr and by extension, the Ruhr Fellowship and Transatlantic Ruhr Fellowship programs. The latter took place from August 3-21 this year.

Both fellowship programs usually allow for students from the three Ruhr universities and Lehigh to participate in a two-week seminar experience with a six-week internship. The Transatlantic Ruhr Fellowship took place partially as a three-week virtual seminar and the Ruhr Fellowship will hopefully run in the summer of 2021.

This summer would have been the first time students participated in the preparatory program at Lehigh, according to Getzler. Previous iterations of the program have occurred at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Once Peter Rosenbaum, executive director of University Alliance Ruhr, and Getzler got to know more about each others’ programs, they agreed that Lehigh would be an excellent fit. The two designed and delivered a one week, full-time “Innovation and Entrepreneurial Mindset Intensive” program in a fully remote environment. The fellows hope to do their internships in the U.S. in person this spring.

During this program, the Baker Institute offered sessions on the following topics: Design Thinking for Innovation, The Business Model Canvas, Creativity Techniques, Assessing your Strengths and Global Entrepreneurial Leadership.

Students also participated in virtual live performances, art workshops, museum tours and other cultural events that would usually take place in-person in New York City. This intercultural education is something that Hope has recognized in this particular program and those that Lehigh has organized.

Partner organizations in this summer’s program included German American Chamber of Commerce, Baker Institute, AFS Intercultural Programs, B. Braun, Deutsches Haus, Evonik, French American Chamber of Commerce, My Postcard, SCHOTT and DAAD.

According to Getzler, if it is possible, the students will complete their internship experience in person in spring 2021.

Exploring Opportunities for Staff Development

While the student opportunities are a great focus of both universities, administrators are now also organizing a staff exchange program, which is the first of its kind at both universities.

Stacy Burger, director of global partnerships and strategic initiatives for Lehigh’s Office of International Affairs, said that the idea to do more programming for staff came a few years ago when the office went through a strategic planning process.

“We determined that not only should we be looking for professional development opportunities for faculty and students, but we should be looking for them for staff as well because empowered staff make better staff,” Burger said.

Burger also said Lehigh approached TU Dortmund with the idea of offering a more international perspective on staff development and that they were interested in working together to make it happen. The collaboration will be a pilot program for any future programs of this kind.

The program, which launched in the early months of the pandemic, will involve staff from both universities who work in the area of student involvement.

“It probably came about out of a necessity to make something work in a digital age, but I think it's an exciting project and we’re looking forward to doing it,” Schneider said.

After multiple discussions, Burger, Schneider and their teams made the decision to have an eight-part event series with 16 participants in total – eight from Dortmund and eight from Lehigh.

“We have some pretty fantastic staff on our campus who are experts in what they do on campus, what they do for students and who we think could benefit from a professional development experience which allows them to share their expertise with staff members from another university,” Burger said.

The professional development sessions will begin on January 13, following a holiday tradition-themed gathering in December. The topics of the sessions will include areas such as higher education systems in the U.S. and Germany, education leadership in both countries, student academics, DACA, design thinking and problem-solving.

The sessions will take place every week and conclude with a graduation ceremony.

Because of COVID-19 protocols still being in place, the participants will meet via Zoom for the time being.

The hope is that in the future, staff will be able to go to the appropriate partner university for a week to shadow those who work in their areas of expertise, upon completion of the program.

In thinking about the partnership as a whole, Burger said that strong communication between the two institutions has been key in having a successful collaborative relationship.

“They’re just willing to try different things with us,” Burger said.

Schneider said she feels the same about the relationship between hers and Burger’s universities.

“When we have an idea and we think about how we can make it happen, we think about Lehigh. We can just bounce ideas off of each other and we learn so much from working with each other,” Schneider said.