The University of Connecticut’s German Studies program has been ranked by The Chronicle of Higher Education as the No. 4 program in the country conferring bachelor’s degrees in the German language, literature, and linguistics.
“I am delighted to learn about this important national recognition of the UConn German Program. It’s well deserved. Along with their dynamic faculty, the EUROTECH program has set a very high standard for linking engineering with the humanities. They graduate broadly educated and highly employable students who are global citizens too,” says Dan Weiner, Vice President for Global Affairs.
What is the program’s secret to success? Dedicated faculty, graduate assistants and students testify to an innovative mix of internationally recognized scholarship, intercultural teaching, interdisciplinary program development and education and internships abroad, supporting 5-year-long dual degrees. Beyond strong on-campus relationships with units such as the Human Rights Institute or schools such as Education or Fine Arts, the program has gone global for decades by sending UConn students to Connecticut’s German partner state, Baden-Wuerttemberg.
Bordering France, Switzerland and Austria, Baden-Wuerttemberg is home of world-famous automotive, software, and medical engineering companies such as Audi, Bosch, Boehringer-Ingelheim, and SAP. Long-standing green policies, a host of “excellence”-rated universities, and the Black Forest add to the state’s reputation. Baden-Wuerttemberg has generously supported UConn students in two dual degree programs: EUROTECH, initiated by Prof. Friedemann Weidauer and the School of Engineering more than 25 years ago, which leads to a BS in Engineering and a BA in German Studies, and EUROBIZ, which leads to a BS in Business and a BA in German Studies.
In preparation for his year-long stay studying and interning in Germany, EUROTECH participant Ethan Beattie ’20 (CLAS) joined a 10-day trip to Germany in 2019. Ethan was thrilled to “meet with multiple leaders in German engineering, such as Porsche, Siemens, [and] medical staff at their facilities in Germany to see what I am working towards and the doors that the EUROTECH program opens for me.” He appreciates that “every instructor and supporting staff in UConn’s German program has been extremely helpful and knowledgeable and devoted to helping us as students to realize our goals.”
EUROTECH student Katherine Riedling ’20 (ENG), who spent her senior year in Germany, says that “German classes at UConn negotiate the balance between practical competencies and individual skills.” She appreciates the encouragement to “pursue passion projects in the German-language academic space, which helped me feel prepared when I studied abroad at the elite Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany last year.”
Building and maintaining close relationships with students is key for faculty and graduate students in the German Studies program. “From their first semester studying German, we work with each student to tailor their German courses and Study Abroad plans exactly to their other academic interests and majors,” says Associate Professor of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages Sebastian Wogenstein.
“For most students, this means only one or two additional courses per semester. It’s absolutely doable, as our many dual degree students show; and having the study abroad and internship experience as well as the BA in German Studies, in addition to another degree, is a huge asset when you go on the job market or apply to graduate schools.”
Program outreach starts in local middle and high schools and continues with one-on-one advising, assistance with course planning and internship applications and review of study abroad options, in close cooperation with Education Abroad, once students are on campus.
Israel Berl ’21 (ENG), a student new to the program, went to Hamburg in early 2020 and wrote to Manuela Wagner, associate professor of literatures, cultures, and languages and director of the German Language and Culture Program, that “when I got to Hamburg I had absolutely no fear of speaking in German because I knew I was going to make some mistakes. The conversational confidence you instilled in me and the rest of the class helped more than I could’ve ever realized in the moment. [Please] tell [other students] they’re learning much more practical knowledge than they can understand in the moment.”
Parker McKenzie ’23 (SFA) says, “Learning a new language should be an annoying process, but the system used by this program makes it streamlined and exciting.”
The development of intercultural communicative competence and intercultural citizenship are integral components of the program’s teaching philosophy. Already at the levels of elementary and intermediate German and culture courses, graduate students, in their capacities as teaching assistants, develop custom-tailored strategies to integrate intercultural components via a community of practice, a novel way for graduate students and experts to learn with and from each other such that it benefits their teaching and research.
Participation in conferences, symposia and colloquia as well as collaborative grant writing complements this “in-house” training of graduate Teaching Assistants in support of developing intercultural communicative competence for undergraduate students. Another important program feature is the work with multimodal approaches to compose scholarly work including and beyond print, websites, and digital humanities projects.
Consistently, the faculty’s research topics find their way into the undergraduate and graduate curriculum. Topics include the study of Namibian (African) cultures with a discussion about German colonial history with Katharina von Hammerstein, literary approaches to the environment with Friedemann Weidauer and Human Rights with Sebastian Wogenstein as well as refugees and migration just as much as business practices in the German-speaking engineering industries.
Ongoing faculty research projects, include Wagner’s widely recognized studies in intercultural citizenship, Anke Finger’s internationally noted publications on digital scholarship, media studies, and modernism, or von Hammerstein’s prolific work, including a scholarly anthology Women Writing War (2019) – all of which serve graduate students and graduates who have gained practical research experience by collaborating with faculty.
Graduate student and teaching assistant Isabell Sluka confirms that “faculty is extremely supportive…With academic curiosity and diligence, it is possible to realize almost anything. This is also reflected in the classes we teach where we encourage students to make use of their second-language skills for their own interests and career needs.”
To German Studies Professor Anke Finger, “German Studies at UConn is unique because we work together as an expert intercultural knowledge community at all levels. We connect high school students, undergraduates, graduates and faculty such that everyone can find support for and pursue their intellectual, professional and personal growth. It is a wonderfully welcoming and innovative program for me as an instructor, and the intellectual richness and productivity in our section is incredibly inspiring to me as a scholar.”