Provost and Vice-President (Academic) Carl Amrhein never expected to receive the prestigious German Order of Merit — even though he has spent almost a decade fostering relations between the University of Alberta and Germany.
When he first heard he was a recipient of the award, he rushed to his colleague, Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President (International) Britta Baron, who was a recipient of the German Canadian Friendship Prize in the same ceremony, to find out what exactly this meant.
“I was stunned,” Amrhein said.
“I said, ‘Britta, what does this mean?’ ”
But after some quick research on the internet, it dawned on him how rare this award really was.
In fact, no one else has ever received a German Order of Merit award in Canada before.
“It’s personally rewarding, but you also have to share it with everybody that makes stuff happen,” Amrhein said.
“So it recognizes an institutional level of activity.”
Amrhein credited his award to many other professors and professionals that have helped him develop relationships with Germany, such as the Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative.
The establishment aims to create environmental and energy solutions through research and partnerships between the University of Alberta and Helmholtz research institutions in Germany.
Helmholtz is also directly funded by the German federal government, which Ottawa has also partially funded since the partnership formation.
“What we’ve done with Helmholtz … is that a university moves beyond a relationship with another single university or grouping of universities, and builds a relationship directly with the national government,” Amrhein explained.
The German federal government also debates the nominees who will receive the award, which is then signed personally by the president of Germany.
Amrhein believes this level of recognition will help continue to create international awareness for the U of A.
“It puts us in a conversation with one of the leading post-secondary systems in the world — and we’re seen as a worthy partner,“ he said.
“So that creates all kinds of opportunities for students. The German government and their agencies now see the U of A as a leader of post-secondary relationships between Germany and the large schools in Canada.”
Amrhein also stressed that the real effort in internationalization is in building trust and forming professional relationships in order to create opportunities.
“On my administrative leave next year, one of the reasons I’ll spend a month in Berlin is to build and expand and create new relationships. That, then, allows more activity to follow,” he said.
The Provost plans to continue to foster these partnerships while pursuing new initiatives in the future, in hopes of further expanding the university’s international relations.
“We’ve gone from student exchange, which might be five to ten students per year, to having 3 faculties, many, many projects (and) large funding from national organizations,” Amrhein said.
“This award is the German government kind of saying ‘U of A: well done.’”
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