Virtually on tour - JGU has brought FORTHEM and FIT FORTHEM to its departments – a follow up

Nicole Birkle and Tanja Herrmann

Getting researchers, students and administrators at an university equally excited about new concepts and transformative processes towards a European University and actively engaging them in trans-institutional activities in times of a pandemic is a great challenge!

Two years since FORTHEM was initiated, it was perfectly clear that while the Alliance, and also our FIT FORTHEM project, offered an amazing number of new forms of international participation, still the knowledge about them and the readiness to get engaged among the various groups was still too low.

While intensive work continues at Alliance level on possible incentives for participation, at JGU we decided to at least try a quick and effective solution to eliminate the information deficit especially among researchers, which we called “a roadshow”.

 

 

Since larger information events have not been possible since March 2020, and as we wanted to prepare the information in a way that was as discipline- and target group-oriented as possible, we had to find a way to visit all departments of the university individually and present the activities of the Alliance. The FORTHEM and FIT FORTHEM teams at JGU sent out joint requests to all the deans to ask if they could consider inviting FORTHEM to one of their next departmental coordination meetings with professors and young researchers, but also students and administrators.

The response was predominantly positive and Tanja Herrmann and Nicole Birkle, as well as the colleagues Nina Straub, Ludmila Samochwalow, and student Anna Roppelt were welcomed to one of the next meetings in the summer semester of 2021. In some cases, JGU university management also took part in the meetings in the person of one of the two vice-presidents, in order to emphasize the pioneering importance of the FORTHEM and FIT FORTHEM activities.

Starting in April and having our last performance on stage so far in July, FORTHEM was presented to 9 departments (out of 10), in addition to the Mainz School of Music, the Gutenberg Research College and the Center for School, Education, and Higher Education Research. Not to just reel off a short standard presentation each time, the overall objective was to present what’s in for whom as to the needs and possible interest of the academics in the departments. So at the end we had 12 different presentations trying to pick up people in their environment.

Where appropriate, members of the FORTHEM labs from the given departments joined the meetings to share their own experiences, to express their ideas and motivation, and to invite people to join. Many thanks here for example go to Eckhard Thines for the Lab Food Science, to Gerhard Kruip and Edith Wittenbrink from Diversity and Migration, and to Raphael Kalisch and Pascal Nicklas from Resilience, Life Quality and Demographic Change. We appreciated the involvement of professors: Sylvia Thiele from Multilingualism in School and Higher Education Lab and Urs Peter Gruber, Faculty of Law and Economics, who spoke about their experiences with FORTHEM.

Our goal: To seed curiosity and show possibilities. Ambitious? Yes! Successful? Hopefully at least a bit. In total, during all those meetings we could reach out to around 320 people directly, and the presentations were sent out to a greater audience afterwards. We discussed with our academics, explained what might be the benefit of a participation in FORTHEM activities, and sometimes – and this needs to be mentioned as well – also had to defend what we do in the two projects.

However, the response was mostly very positive and we can already reap the first fruits. People from almost all departments reached the FORTHEM teams with additional personal questions, expressions of interest and initial feedback on new cooperation - internally or with partners of the Alliance. The ground for trans-European cooperation is now a better prepared, and we have to continue on this path.

We learnt that communication channels must be further improved and expanded, personal contacts must be strengthened and information must be prepared in a targeted manner. Most important: getting academics, students and administrators on board takes time and many people who are able to plant the seeds. So, let’s all stay on the road to make FORTHEM and FIT FORHEM really a success.

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