Kaler, admins expand partnership in Norway

The University’s president discussed expanding a longstanding academic alliance with two Norwegian schools.

Kaler, admins expand partnership in Norway

Blair Emerson

In just two years, University of Minnesota adjunct professor Ron McRoberts published a total of nine papers and book chapters.

As part of a research collaboration with two faculty members from a Norwegian university, McRoberts used modern technology to create detailed maps of forests throughout the United States and Norway.

“We’ve been really productive,” McRoberts said.

The University provides funding to faculty members like McRoberts through a nearly decade-old partnership with two Scandinavian institutions — an alliance that University administrators are working to deepen.  

To renew a student exchange and research partnership called the Norwegian Centennial Chair Program, University President Eric Kaler, his wife Karen Kaler and eight others visited Norway at the end of last month. Over the course of seven days, the travelers aimed to strengthen ties with the country and to expand the program to include more fields of research, like veterinary medicine.

“Norway’s been an important part of [the University’s] history … and will be an important part of our future,” Kaler previously told the Minnesota Daily.

This was Kaler’s second international tour as president, following his excursion to China last year to help address the country’s air pollution.

Private funds from the University of Minnesota Foundation covered travel expenses for the Kalers and the president’s speechwriter. Funding for the other delegates, which included some University deans, came from their respective colleges.

This year’s weeklong trip featured visits to four Norwegian universities, including the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and the University of Oslo. These two schools, along with the University of Minnesota, make up the Norwegian Centennial Chair program.

In addition to providing study abroad options for students, the program offers research grants to faculty members and students who are conducting environmental research in Norway and Minnesota.

But some University of Minnesota administrators who traveled with Kaler — like College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Trevor Ames — hope to lengthen the list of qualifying research.

Veterinary medicine is currently not part of the Norwegian Centennial Chair program, Ames said, and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences currently holds the country’s only school of veterinary science. However, a $1 billion boost from the Norwegian government will help the university expand research in this area.

University of Minnesota administrators are also discussing further expansion of the program to areas like computer science and engineering, said Mos Kaveh, associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering and one of Kaler’s fellow travelers to Norway.

How the partnership expands to new disciplines will depend on which faculty members decide to participate in the Norwegian Centennial Chair program, said Claudia Schmidt-Dannert, professor of biochemistry at the University of Minnesota and chairholder of the partnership.

Renewing partnerships with the Norwegian universities was also on the administrators’ to-do list.

Oslo’s two-year agreement with the University of Minnesota expires this year, but its leadership plans to renew the agreement, said Solveig Aas, a senior adviser for the International Research Cooperation at the University of Oslo.

The agreement will be renewed within the next two months, said Bob Elde, the former dean of the College of Biological Sciences and a key founding partner in the University’s relationship with Norway.

Boosting student exchanges

University officials hope to increase the number of exchange students involved in the Norwegian Centennial Chair program.

Meredith McQuaid, associate vice president and dean for international programs, said college administrators and members of the Norwegian government would like to identify and solve some of the barriers to student exchanges, like transferring courses and issues with international travel.

“We’d like to see more graduate students going in these directions,” she said.

In total, seven graduate students are involved with the exchange between the University and Norway, Aas said.

University of Oslo leaders also said they would like to boost the number of student exchanges.

Gøril Mellem, adviser for the student exchange program at Oslo, said her institution hasn’t been successful in recruiting students to study at the University of Minnesota and wants to begin by boosting exchange numbers in the life sciences.

A long history

The University of Minnesota’s ties with these Norwegian universities date back nearly a decade.

Elde forged the earliest partnerships between the University and the two Norwegian institutions that are now part of the agreement.

Though he completed his post-doctoral studies in Sweden, Elde said it wasn’t until he became a faculty member at the University that he started to explore the research strengths of Scandinavian schools.

“When I became dean, I knew about the research strengths in Norway, and so [I] began exploring those slowly at first,” he said.

The partnership with the University of Life Sciences was established in 2006, Elde said, after the Norwegian government gave a $750,000 grant to the University of Minnesota — a sum the administration matched. Oslo joined the agreement in 2010.