University stresses connections to Norway

Alex Robinson

Norwegian Ambassador Knut Vollebaek and U.S. Ambassador to Norway Benson Whitney visited the University March 6 to speak with students about the Norwegian student exchange programs.

The meeting between Americans and Norwegians exemplified the larger relationship between the University and Norway. The University is not only working with Norway by exchanging students and ideas, but also collaborating on research and funds.

During the meeting, Whitney, a University alumnus, stressed the importance of strengthening that relationship and in understanding Norwegian culture.

“I genuinely believe that our national relationship, particularly with a country like Norway, cannot survive without the people-to-people ties supporting it,” he said.

But recently the number of Norwegian exchange students at the University declined, and Vollebaek said he wants to reverse that trend. A major reason for the decrease in Norwegian students at the University, he said, is the new opportunities opening up in other countries.

Vollebaek said that a new Web site launched this year makes it easier for Norwegian students to apply to the University and encourages more Norwegians to enroll.

Ingvild Westad, a political science graduate student from Norway, said the meeting was productive because the ambassadors would help make it easier for students to transfer.

She said studying in Norway and in the United States gave her an advantage because she experienced different styles of learning.

“I have been able to take classes that are not offered at home, and I get access to expertise that I would not have access to in Norway,” she said.

Research collaboration

The University plans to continue bringing people that have the same international mindset as Westad together by annually collaborating with Norwegian researchers.

For the past three years, six research teams from the University and Norway came together to discuss their findings and talk about how they can improve research in the future.

Two of the six teams focus on genomics and food safety while the other four teams work on renewable energy, said the University Norwegian Centennial Interdisciplinary Chairman Judson Sheridan.

The six teams plan to include University graduate and undergraduate students in their research, as well as visits to Norway, Sheridan said.

Crown Prince Haakon gave a gift of $750,000 to the University in the fall of 2005 to create Sheridan’s position. The fund generates interest, which is then used to pay for the program, Sheridan said.

“It’s not a grant; it’s a gift in a sense, and that’s very important because that means that Norway and the University of Minnesota have committed themselves to a long-term relationship,” he said.

President Bob Bruininks visited Norway last spring, bringing a gift of his own: Bruininks pledged to match the amount given by Prince Haakon.

“The president is very committed to national education, and I admire his genuine commitment to it,” Whitney said. “That energy from the top makes a big difference.”

Sheridan said Norway is a good partner to the University because they share similar priorities.

“It gives us an opportunity to work with strong scientists that have complementary methods to come up with research results that are more than they would have necessarily gotten on their own. It provides a synergy,” he said.