Students, faculty collaborating across the Atlantic

July 15, 2020
Screenshot of students and faculty researchers from Fitchburg State and Rhine Waal University in Germany

The COVID-19 pandemic has not stifled the international collaboration between students and faculty at Fitchburg State University and the Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences in Germany, where researchers are exploring the transatlantic relationship between our two nations.

Delegations from each university have visited the other in recent years, with the latest research project taking shape since 2019 under the leadership of Professor Joshua B. Spero of Fitchburg State and Rhine-Waal faculty colleagues, Alexander Brand and Klaus Hegemann.

“All of us believe strongly in the importance of shared and candid dialogue, and we want to bridge divides and build greater trust across the younger generations,” said Professor Spero, a member of Fitchburg State’s Economics, History and Political Science Department. 

Together with Professors Brand and Hegemann, and their research assistants, Hale Kadak and Paula Plattner, Dr. Spero and his research assistants, Samantha Beauchamp ’21 of Sutton, Theresa Dzierwinski ’21 of Ludlow, and Theresa Klobucher ’20 of Lowell, worked together closely during the spring 2020 semester, focusing their joint efforts by asking the serious questions, is the transatlantic relationship obsolescent? Do young people on both sides of the Atlantic drift apart these days?

To explore the topic, a survey was conducted this spring that spanned the two institutions. Despite the pandemic forcing a switch to remote instruction at both universities, 400 students took part. The results showed overwhelming interest in the importance of maintaining transatlantic relations and strengthening the partnership between the U.S. and Germany (67% at Rhine-Waal agreed with the sentiment, while 73% of Fitchburg State’s respondents agreed). Of the respondents, 80% said they kept up-to-date with the news.

This joint research project’s survey also underscored that great interest in strengthening transatlantic relations among well-informed students is unbroken. The joint research team also drew from the survey’s results that between 75 and 80% attach particular importance to intensive exchange and close student contact between Germany and the US. In the same breath, two-thirds (Germany) to three-quarters (USA) of the current students see themselves as future leaders of society. Hence, the ‘transatlantic glue’ does not seem to be in danger in the future, despite all the current political skirmishes.

More recently, the faculty-research teams from the two institutions held a virtual meeting to discuss the next steps of their research, including planning of a videoconference “town hall” scheduled for the fall, including an election night event.