The ELBA Story
ELBA stands for Experiential Learning Berlin-America and it give students, researchers and staff the opportunity to broaden their academic and professional horizons by taking part in this truely extraordinary exchange.
How things started
The origins of the ELBA project between Berliner Hochschule für Technik and the College of New Jersey (TCNJ) began in 2009 when physics professor David McGee was attending a conference at the Max Planck Institute in Dahlem. At the time, Prof. McGee was a professor at Drew University, a private undergraduate university located just outside of New York City. Working at a university with no Master or PhD programs limits the opportunities for US faculty and students to experience the international nature of scientific research. At the conference, Prof. McGee learned about the re-structured EU system of Bachelor and Master theses, and realized that US colleges focused on student research would be ideal hosting sites for German Bachelor and Master thesis projects.
As a researcher in applied optics, McGee learned about the Laboratory for Optics and Laser Technology at Berlin University of Applied Sciences and contacted Prof. Kay-Uwe Kasch who at that time was the dean of Fachbereich II. Prof. Kasch connected Prof. McGee with Prof. Ingeborg Beckers of the Laboratory for Optics and Laser Technology, and Prof. McGee and Prof. Beckers then recruited two Master students to do their thesis projects at McGee’s lab at Drew University. The two students, Bastian Bräuer and Johannes Schluesener, spent 9 months living on campus at Drew University and working full time in Prof. McGee’s photonics lab. The Berlin students worked alongside US students, and in many cases supervised and managed the undergraduates in Prof. McGee’s lab. Prof. McGee accompanied Bräuer and Schluesener back to Berlin and was a member of their thesis committee.
A promising program started to blossom
This initial model was highly successful. The Berlin students assumed ownership of a photonics research laboratory, while also benefitting from working with US students and participating fully in an American college physics department. The cultural benefits of living close to New York city and Philadelphia were likewise a major highlight for the Berlin students. Prof. McGee then moved to become chair of the College of New Jersey physics department, and continued to build on this initial model, eventually supervising 11 more thesis projects and involving Berlin faculty members Prof. Beckers, Prof. Georg Sommerer, and Prof. Juergen Eichler.
In 2014, Prof. McGee spent a semester at Berlin, teaching a course in Holographie and bringing along two TCNJ students. In 2017 and 2019, Prof. McGee, Prof. Beckers, and Prof. Sommerer attended the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics in Munich, which brought together the TCNJ and Berlin student teams for a week of presentations and cultural activities in Munich.
The ELBA-Project got established
Through 2020, this informal collaboration between TCNJ and Berlin required significant effort and financial resources on the student participants. Likewise, there was little student exchange, with most of the students coming from Berlin to TCNJ. However, the situation changed recently when the TCNJ Center for Global Engagement (CGE) secured low-cost on-campus housing for Berlin students. At the same time, Olivia Key and Prof. Kay Kasch at Berlin approached DAAD with the idea for what is now the ELBA award. This award provides significant funding for students, faculty, and staff to travel in both directions, lowering the barriers to a more complete international exchange between Berlin and TCNJ, and sustaining this exciting program over the next four years.
The International Office, together with professors from Departments II and V, has obtained funding for the four-year project ELBA (Experiential Learning Berlin America). It is funded by the DAAD through the HAW International programme (2021 - 2024).
The project is designed to enable students, doctoral candidates and staff to gain professional and research-relevant experience at the partner university The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). At the same time, relations with TCNJ are to be strengthened and expanded.
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