Heidelberg celebrates AJY’s 60th anniversary

Heidelberg celebrates AJY’s 60th anniversary

During the 60th anniversary of the American Junior Year (AJY) program last month in Heidelberg, Germany, the many levels of passion for the program shined through – from current students and administrators to ‘Berg representatives President Rob Huntington and Dean Bryan Smith, who were on hand to celebrate the longevity and partnership of this enduring study abroad program.

This is a big deal,” Rob said. “Sixty years doesn’t happen very often.” He noted that Heidelberg’s AJY partnership with the University of Heidelberg is the second oldest of its type in the country. “It’s really something to be proud of.

Although it was a short, four-day visit, Rob and Bryan filled it with meaningful opportunities to meet new friends and connect with old friends and acquaintances, visit with current ‘Berg students who are studying through the AJY program for a year, a semester or the six-week summer program, and check out the impressive renovations that significantly expanded the AJY facility. They also attended a University of Heidelberg open house and reception and spent a day learning about ongoing science and research taking place on the German campus.

Bryan, who was making his first trip to Germany and the Heidelberg AJY program, “hit it off immediately” with the resident director, Dr. Hanne Heckmann, AJY assistant director Dr. Styles Sass, and program assistants Ms. Carina Wiest and Ms. Cara Brumedi. Rob noted that at the open house, “Our Heidelberg students were there in abundance. We enjoyed lots of conversations with them, and that was great.” Nine of the 42 current students are from Tiffin. In addition to welcomes by Hanne and Rob, Consul General Patricia Lacina, of the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, also addressed the students. She spent an hour speaking with our students and sharing her life story that included study abroad in Spain.

Following the open house, the parties gathered for a formal reception to honor the program’s 60th anniversary, hosted by Pro-Rector Dr. Dieter W. Heermann and the University of Heidelberg. During his remarks, Rob recognized the contributions of those who have built and sustained the program through six decades and those who continue to make it successful to this day.

Specifically, he noted three long-serving directors in the AJY’s history, including Dr. Charles Prugh who is credited with the vision to create the program in Germany 13 years after the end of World War II and served as director for 17 years. The late Dr. Brian Tracy was director for 23 years and he strengthened our AJY program significantly in many ways. Hanne, who was a program assistant to Brian, assumed the program’s leadership when Brian retired. She is starting her 10th year as director and has been involved with AJY for about 30 years.

AJY leadership has been there through thick and thin, as the program continues to provide a gateway for students from universities across the country to experience a quality study abroad experience, Rob said.

Science Day was a scientist’s dream – “a really amazing experience,” according to Bryan. “That day was all about relationship building,” he said. The day kicked off with a meeting with Dr. Joachim Gerke, director of the International Relations Office, and Ms. Elisabeth Trnka-Hammel, who is responsible for the International Relations Office's study abroad partnerships, exchange programs, and cooperation projects within the United States. After that, the science really started flowing. As the dean of Allied Health, Behavioral, and Natural Sciences, this may have been the highlight of the trip for Bryan.

Professor Dr. Thomas Braunbeck, Heidelberg Center for the Environment, Aquatic Ecology & Toxicology and the Center for Organismal Studies, and political science doctoral candidate Mr. Simon Schaub, Political Science, EFFECT NETwork in Water Research, were generous in sharing their time, speaking about their current scientific research and giving tours of their labs. Dr. Braunbeck’s research on the toxicology of consumer products finding their way into the Neckar River – products such as artificial sweeteners and the diabetes drug Metformin – have been shown to adversely affect the fish population of the river, which runs through the campus. Related, doctoral student Simon Schaub spoke about his research to survey residents about their willingness to change their habits in response to consumerism and its impact on the river.

Bryan saw similarities in their water research, and hopes the German researchers will visit the Tiffin campus to collaborate with ‘Berg faculty and National Center for Water Quality Research staff members.

“I was really impressed with the world class research and the ways they explained it to us,” he said.

While physics programs in U.S. universities are diminishing, the University of Heidelberg is home to one of the top physics programs in the world. “Physics is everywhere there. It’s the mecca of science in Europe, if not the world,” Bryan said. Physics Professor Dr. Reiner Dahint, the research group leader of Applied Physical Chemistry, guided a tour of his elite lab and discussed the cross-disciplinary research being conducted there. He introduced two research colleagues who also presented overviews of their great work.

“All of the scientists were so gracious with their time,” Bryan said. “It was such a fascinating day.”

Bryan is hopeful that we can place a strong Heidelberg Natural Sciences student into a phenomenal lab research internship under Dr. Dahint.

Bryan and Rob also had opportunities to visit the University of Heidelberg Museum (from 1386 to present), the venerated Great Hall, the infamous Student Prison, two 1,000-year-old churches, the beautiful Heiligenberg, and the Klosterhof Brewery at the nearby monastery. It was a fascinating trip all around!

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