The Global Identity of HWS German Studies

by Andrew Wickenden ’09

Eric Klaus, associate professor and chair of the GAS program
advising Emily Nugent ’13, Blocker Fellow.

In an era of globalization, programs like German Area Studies (GAS) become increasingly important, but as a result, they must also constantly evolve. “We’re forced to ask, ‘what defines German Area Studies?’ and ‘how do we as a department make ourselves known and relevant?’” says Ashwin Manthripragada, visiting assistant professor of GAS.

To address these questions head-on, Manthripragada and Eric Klaus, associate professor and chair of the GAS program, have focused the program’s curriculum around the nature of German identity in the 21st century. This development – which melds German language learning with historical, social, literary, economic and political contexts – has taken a variety of forms, from academic and social events on campus, to experiential learning opportunities for students and alums, to an expanding GAS abroad presence.

These new facets are helping “integrate German culture into the fabric of the campus community,” Klaus says.

Ashwin Manthripragada

GAS Abroad

Klaus notes the success of recent graduates who have pursued their love of German language and culture beyond HWS, like Silene Binkerd-Dale ’12, who earned a Fulbright Award to Tübingen; Luke Connolly ’15, who is interning at the American Embassy in Berlin; Stephen Enos ’15, who began a graduate program in physics in Dresden this fall; Lizzy Kniffin ’15, an au pair for a German family in Frankfurt, where she’s honing her language skills as she weighs graduate school and career options; and Devan Mizzoni ’13, a graduate student at the University of Vienna.

Each of these graduates spent time abroad in Germany as students through the Blocker Fellowship, which, thanks to the generosity of the late Julius G. Blocker ’53, provides support to HWS students who participate in one of the Colleges’ study abroad programs in Germany.

“Julius Blocker went on a Fulbright to Germany, which was, in his own words, a ‘life-changing experience.’ That’s thebackbone of much of what we’re doing now,” Klaus explains. “Our initiatives in international opportunities and in bringing culture to campus reflect this credo of life-changing experiences.”

“Without the Blocker Fellowship I never would have decided to move to a German-speaking country,” says Mizzoni, who spent the spring of 2012 studying in Berlin, immersing herself in the language and the culture. “The experiences I had in my semester abroad almost completely determined my decision to move here after graduation. It was a really big leap of faith coming here – I’m ambitious and a planner, so moving to a country where I knew no one was a huge risk, but it has paid off in more ways than I could’ve imagined.”

Luke Connolly '15

For Connolly, who majored in political science with a double minor in economics and international relations, “The Blocker Fellowship was essential to both my academic career and future career plans. It provided me with the financial assistance I needed in order to study abroad – an experience which directly influenced my career plans by creating a desire to return to Germany or work with the country in some capacity.”

The Blocker Showcase, in which returning Blocker Fellows present their experiences to their classmates, highlights for current students “the fantastic opportunities to study abroad in Germany,” says Kniffin, an international relations major and German minor who spent a full year abroad as a Blocker Fellow. “Those 11 months in Bremen, and one in Berlin, not only exposed me to a global world, but also set me on a specific path.”

A Growing Community

When Kniffin and Kathryn Gallagher ’15 returned to HWS after studying in Bremen, they helped to found the German Club.

“Once that happened there’s been a more ongoing presence of German culture,” Manthripragada says. “It’s part of the backbone of making ourselves more present. There’s a sense of community.”

Kate Boeding ’16 presents her experience to classmates, faculty
and staff at The Blocker Showcase.

To capitalize on this vitality, the GAS program has developed other opportunities, like the German Area Symposium, to promote intellectual collaboration between HWS and other GAS programs in the area.

With a focus on identity in the 21st century, the first Symposium took place on campus in April and brought together scholars and students from the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium – which includes HWS, Colgate, Hamilton, St. Lawrence, Union and Skidmore, sharing resources and ideas as they delve into topical issues regarding the sustainable success of higher education institutions.

Looking Forward

In the summer of 2015, with the support of the Blocker Fund, the HWS GAS program was able for the first time to send students to University of Leipzig’s Summer Immersion Program, which allows HWS students to earn course credit.

Taught by language instructors at the university’s Herder Institute, the program “is marvelous,” Klaus says. “I’m very excited about it. When they came back to campus, their German was stronger, they were better ambassadors for the Blocker Fellowship, and my hope is that they will inspire students to take more German.”

Noting her cohort of recent graduates, who “have all been fully inspired by their time spent in Germany,” Kniffin recalls her time in the HWS GAS program as not only “an academic experience, but a social one filled with friendships and personal growth.”

Devan Mizzoni ’13

For Connolly as well, the GAS program “provided me with so many opportunities to engage with German culture.” And after his experience abroad, he says, “I realized that I wanted to return to Germany and have a career path which incorporated my interest in the country with my studies of international relations and politics.”

Connolly’s internship at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin is based in the Public Affairs section, which “promotes an understanding of U.S. political, economic and social issues, explaining to German audiences both the current Administration’s foreign policy agenda and the complexities of U.S. society and culture.”

Mizzoni hopes to remain in Austria after she graduates from the program in Vienna, “where I could use my English and German to work with an international NGO or one of the many development related agencies in the city,” she says. “This city is really a hub for development cooperation, so it would be a great experience working here.”

Kniffin, who began work as an au pair in Frankfurt this summer, says the job will help her “evaluate and home in on” where German fits in her long-term goals. “I’m interested in intercultural communication, ethics and the non-profit sector,” she says. “I’ll soon be taking a right or left on the same path that began with the Blocker Fellowship, depending on what I am exposed to during this upcoming year and whether I begin a masters or start out in the professional world.”

As the GAS program develops under the leadership of Klaus and Manthripragada and the close-knit community of current students, Kniffin is confident in the “wonderful underclassmen who saw the excitement we had and added something special. I know they will continue to pave the way.”


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