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Tackling Global Challenges Together: UNC Hosts Tübingen Partners

December 6, 2022
UNC Global Affairs
Four people pose for a photo.

From left to right: Carolina's Barbara Stephenson, vice provost for global affairs, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Tübingen's , Monique Scheer, vice president for international affairs and diversity, and Andrea Schaub, director of Tübingen’s research division. (Photo by Krista Northup)

UNC-Chapel Hill hosted senior leaders and staff from its longtime strategic partner Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen Nov. 14-15 to identify joint research opportunities, deepen a new joint initiative related to data science and celebrate the roots of the partnership. The German delegation, led by Monique Scheer, vice president for international affairs and diversity, was welcomed by Carolina leaders including Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Christopher Clemens.

“The foundation we have built with Tübingen has paved the way for us to embark on new ventures,” said Barbara Stephenson, vice provost for global affairs. “Together UNC and Tübingen are exploring the promise and perils of new technologies such as machine learning and AI. We hope to demonstrate how research conducted with international partners can accelerate progress on shared research goals.”

A delegation from UNC-Chapel Hill led by Stephenson visited Tübingen this summer in coordination with the 2022 Royster Global Conference, but this visit was Scheer’s first to Carolina. At a welcome reception, she noted common values shared between the two universities.

“Both Carolina and Tübingen are public institutions dedicated to excellence, access and diversity with a strong commitment to serving their local community,” said Scheer.

In addition to shared values, the two universities also share goals for tackling global challenges and producing research with societal impact. For example, research is underway at both institutions to discover new antiviral drugs that will help control future pandemics. The effects of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning on democratic societies is another area of strong mutual interest.

To spark new collaborations addressing shared challenges, UNC-Chapel Hill has partnered with Tübingen, a German University of Excellence and a leader in machine learning and data science, to establish a joint seed fund to support interdisciplinary collaborations in data science as it relates to health, democracy, or urban planning. The Office of the Vice Provost for Global Affairs (OVPGA) and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research equally contribute to the UNC portion of this fund. Applications for funding are currently being accepted.

“Carolina and Tübingen share similar collaborative cultures and several promising areas of synergistic expertise,” said Penny Gordon-Larsen, interim vice chancellor for research. “This partnership presents exciting opportunities, particularly across a diverse range of topics within data science — a strategic area of emphasis for both institutions.”

Four women pose for a photo together.
From left to right: Tori Smith Ekstrand, Francesca Tripodi, Priscilla Layne and Barbara Stephenson. (Photo by Katie Costanza)

The first funded project will focus on the weaponization of intellectual thought, with a joint conference planned for summer 2023 in Tübingen. UNC-Chapel Hill faculty Tori Ekstrand from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, Priscilla Layne from the Department of Germanic & Slavic Languages & Literatures and Francesca Tripodi from the School of Information and Library Science are partnering with Guido Zurstiege from Tübingen’s Institute for Media Studies on the project.

“I was really thrilled at how fruitful the discussions were,” said Andrea Schaub, director of Tübingen’s research division. “I am confident that the cooperation will further grow and bring our universities closer together and help to develop the fields in the best way.”

In addition to Scheer and Schaub, the Tübingen delegation included:

Natalia Ruetalo Buschinger, postdoctoral fellow in molecular virology, Faculty of Medicine

Sven Nahnsen, director, Quantitative Biology Center

Laura Schelenz, researcher, International Center for Ethics in the Sciences & Humanities

Nici Sauer, exchange coordinator for U.S. programs, Department of International Affairs

UNC-Chapel Hill and Tübingen have had a long-standing undergraduate exchange since 1986, with more than 110 students from both institutions studying at the partner university. Sauer, who coordinates student exchanges with the U.S. in Tübingen’s international affairs office, met with prospective exchange students during the visit, as well as faculty in the German department. The UNC-Tübingen partnership, initially established by faculty in German and American studies, has grown to include activity in more than 15 departments across the Carolina campus.

One contributor to the growth of Carolina’s strategic partnership with Tübingen is the work of faculty members who have received Global Partnership Awards. The awards, administered by OVPGA, support Carolina faculty interested in exploring or expanding collaboration with an international partner.

Courtney Rivard, teaching associate professor in English & Comparative Literature and director of the Digital Literacy and Communications (DLC) lab, received a Global Partnership Award in 2022 to grow collaborations in digital humanities with Tübingen. While in Tübingen this summer, Rivard established connections between faculty at both institutions and initiated collaborative research on game studies and interactive media between the DLC lab and the Center of Media Competence at Tübingen.

The next application deadline for Global Partnership Awards is March 15, 2023. For more information or to apply for funding, contact Krista Northup, director of global partnerships.

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