Hannes Richter

Fifteen Years of Austrian-American Educational Cooperation

Hannes Richter
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“If you can read this, have we got a deal for you!!!” In the mid 1990s brochures with this beckoning slogan appeared on university campuses all over Austria and led to what would become a vibrant exchange between Austrian teachers and New York City’s public schools. With over 1.2 million students, the school district of NYC was experiencing a shortage of teachers of secondary school mathematics and science, while Austria had a number of graduates who were frustrated in their efforts to find full-time teaching jobs.
An exchange initiative, the “Professional Teacher Development Program,” (PTDP) was developed to ease the situation, enabling Austrian instructors to teach in New York’s public schools. In addition to providing New York with experienced teachers, it also afforded Austrians the opportunity to experience a different school system, learn new teaching methods, and develop a stronger proficiency in English. Participants strengthened their bilingual instruction skills after returning from the exchange and contributed to Austria’s competitiveness in the global market by underscoring the importance of English competence. This program also afforded a unique opportunity for Austrian teachers to serve as cultural ambassadors, raising awareness of Austria, its history and its culture. Given the program’s success, it was later expanded to incorporate teachers from Bavaria/Germany, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

The PTDP represented the culmination of a period of successful educational cooperation between Austria and the city of New York. These strong ties began in 1990 after Dr. Alfred S. Posamentier, Dean of the School of Education from the City College of the City University of New York (CCNY), completed a visiting Fulbright Professorship at the University of Vienna. During his fellowship in Vienna, after witnessing the lively debates surrounding proposed educational reforms, he developed an interest in Vienna’s school system. Inspired by his experiences abroad, Posamentier contacted the Vienna University of Technology and the then President of the Vienna City School Council, Dr. Hans Matzenauer, to develop comparatively a new form of continuing education for Austrians in New York.

With the support of the Austrian Ministry of Education, Ministry of Science and Culture, and the CCNY, the educators were able to establish an official bilateral agreement of cooperation, appropriately named the Austrian-American Educational Cooperation Association. Soon thereafter, the Association organized the first International Mathematics Education Conference in Vienna, in partnership with Siemens. This was the first of many conferences to be held annually.

This initiative was followed by an even more ambitious undertaking - a Summer Program in New York that involved sixty Austrian teachers. These educators forged contacts with CCNY that would serve as the basis for future exchange programs, “sponsorships” between schools and universities, and annual visits by U.S. school superintendents to Austria.

By 1994, preparations were underway to establish a Master of Arts Program (M.A.) in Austria. With the assistance of Dr. Posamentier, a degree program was developed for Austrian teachers in Secondary Mathematics Education and Secondary English Education. Since its creation, 177 Austrian teachers have earned a M.A. degree from CCNY in conjunction with their studies in Vienna, Feldkirch or Innsbruck, or by studying abroad at CCNY.

After the success of the “Professional Teacher Development Program” in 1998, the “Junior Visiting Professorship Program,” was added in 2004. The objective was to bring professors from the University of Vienna, Vienna University of Technology and the Universities of Linz and Graz to teach at the  City College of the City University of New York (CUNY). The initiative was designed to create teaching and research opportunities in New York, and to encourage young researchers to engage in and develop interdisciplinary, cross-cultural research projects that would expand the boundaries of basic disciplines. For example, projects have included such wide-ranging topics as: “Moving Pictures – Changing Perspectives? The Politics of Mistranslation and the Mistranslation of Politics in Film and the Media” and “The Glathamine Story: From Natural Compounds to New Lead Structures for Alzheimer Treatment.”

Efforts to continuously seek new forms of cooperation have led to additional exchange agreements being signed that connected the Vienna University of Economics with the Baruch College (CUNY) and the University of Vienna with CCNY.  A number of other such agreements are currently under negotiation.

This program has flourished, and in 2005 this successful partnership was expanded to foster the mutual recognition of university degrees between the City University of New York and Austrian universities. Exchange programs in other schools and universities have continued to inspire cross cultural learning and additional partnerships, including international competitions, and even meetings between representatives of school boards from both countries. Cooperation in educational exchanges, joint research, and joint-degree programs has become increasingly pertinent in our globalizing world. The AAECE continues to serve as a pioneer in the creation and development of the kind of educational initiatives that have brought our world closer together.

The Austrian-American Educational Cooperation Association has been widely acclaimed as a successful catalyst for innovative educational programs. As the Chancellor of CUNY, Matthew Goldstein notes: “Through the AAECA’s efforts, one-of-a-kind opportunities for cooperative learning, including university and faculty exchanges, international education conferences, and student programs in the United States and Europe, are stimulating greater proficiency and participation by both teachers and students in these critical disciplines.” This exceptional exchange program has attracted a variety of talented teachers on both sides of the Atlantic and as Austrian Minister for Education, Arts and Culture Dr. Claudia Schmied emphasizes: “Over the years, teaching in the Big Apple has not lost any of its attraction and enjoys ever increasing interest in our neighboring countries as well. In addition, manifold other activities conducted at school and administrative levels in collaboration between partners in New York and Austria have led to important experience exchanges and close and intense cooperation.” Today more than ever, the exchange of knowledge is important. We live in a society where the skills in acquisition of comprehensive linguistic and cultural competence are  crucial to individual success and to a country’s advancement. The Federal Ministry of Science and Research supports this cooperation specifically in the field of early research. As Austrian Minister for Science and Research Dr. Johannes Hahn points out: “Young Austrian university staff have the opportunity to gain teaching and research experience in New York, while students and graduates of Austrian and New York universities are able to present and discuss their research work in the framework of “Young Scientists Conferences.”

Under the auspices of the Austrian-American Educational Cooperation Association (AAECA), New York City and Austria have enjoyed fifteen years of successful educational collaboration. This partnership has served as a model for successful educational exchange.