College Explores New Academic Collaborations Through Sister City Link

A group from the Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ) visits Albion to discuss ideas

January 11, 2018

A group of people sitting around a table.

Albion College President Mauri Ditzler (seated at end of table) listens as members of the City of Albion’s Sister City Committee, College faculty and a three-person delegation from UVSQ in France share thoughts during a morning meeting January 9 in the President’s Home.

By Chuck Carlson

Call it the next step in a long-standing relationship.

For two decades, the City of Albion has enjoyed a fruitful and successful Sister City relationship with the French towns of Noisy-le-Roi and Bailly. And Albion College has actively supported the community initiative since the beginning.

Last June, an Albion College delegation led by President Mauri Ditzler and including French professor Dianne Guenin-Lelle and biology professor Abigail Cahill, traveled to France to celebrate 20 years of rewarding connections.

But it was also an opportunity to advance the relationship, so Ditzler offered an invitation to members of the nearby, and much larger, Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (UVSQ) to come to Albion for a visit and discuss future opportunities.

“There’s been a desire for a stronger college-to-college relationship,” said Cahill, who did her post-doctorate work in France before coming to Albion last year.

So on January 9, a UVSQ delegation of Jan Borm, vice president of international affairs and professor of English; Benoît Petit, vice president and professor of law; and Harald Schraeder, director of international affairs, came to Albion for a one-day whirlwind visit to discuss ways the two colleges could strengthen their partnership and share educational opportunities.

“There are going to be things that are easy to implement,” said Guenin-Lelle. “These are two very different institutions but it’s amazing how aligned we are in terms of teaching, research and international opportunities for our students and our staff. This was a watershed of conversations.”

Indeed, the trio of French visitors met in the morning with President Ditzler and an array of faculty, staff and community members including Cristen Casey, director of the Center for International Education; Thom Wilch, professor of geological sciences; Trisha Franzen, professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies; Emmanuel Yewah, professor of French; Sheryl Mitchell, Albion’s city manager; Mary Slater and Mae Ola Dunklin, co-chairs of the Albion Sister City Committee; Susan Conner, Sister City Committee member and retired provost; Cahill and Guenin-Lelle, who is also associate provost of assessment and advising as well as co-chair of the Albion Sister City Committee.

“We’ve been in brainstorming mode until now,” Guenin-Lelle said. “Now we’re able to identify connections. We understand what the potential is with more clarity now.”

In the afternoon, the three visitors met individually with Laurel Draudt and Brittany Westbrook of the Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management; Casey, to discuss off-campus program opportunities for students; Cahill, to discuss science writing workshops; and Wilch on sustainability studies.

Cahill said there are certain disciplines, including science, which could be shared between the two colleges going forward. “We want to explore how science is done differently and how it’s done the same,” she said.

She added that students from France could come to Albion to learn how to write research papers (which in the French system isn’t done until graduate school) and how to converse in English.

“English is the language of science,” Cahill said. “I think we’ve laid some groundwork.”

A group of people sitting in a row at a table.

Albion College biology professor Abigail Cahill (right) discusses potential educational exchange opportunities with UVSQ representatives in a January 9 afternoon session. The group included Benoît Petit (left), Harald Schraeder (center) and Jan Borm. Albion French professor Dianne Guenin-Lelle, who helped coordinate the fact-finding trip, also listens in.

And the plan is to move ahead quickly, starting, Guenin-Lelle said, with getting more Albion faculty and community members involved and scheduling another trip to France for further discussions.

“It would be an exploratory trip to learn about what real options would be available,” she said. “It’s not just about the school but the community, and this would strengthen Albion’s sense of community. The UVSQ people left understanding the importance of the Albion community and I was really happy they understood that.”

Indeed, the UVSQ trio, who were making their first trip to Albion, came away impressed.

“We share common values in the ways we think about education,” Petit said. “We have a common way of thinking.”

Borm said UVSQ and Albion have been doing smaller and shorter exchange programs for several years, including in sustainability studies, but sees this as a chance to expand the collaboration and benefit both institutions.

“Albion is one of the schools we hope will become a strategic partner,” Borm said. “There’s quite a lot of potential here.”