Faculty and students from UM-Flint's College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) are taking advantage of the exchange partnership established in 2012 between the university and Germany's Bergische University of Wuppertal (BUW).
"The opportunity to build on this existing relationship is so exciting for us," said Susan Gano-Phillips, PhD, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. "CAS students are encouraged to think globally, problem solve, and find real-world applications for their research. The chance to study and research abroad is just one aspect of the foundation we build through liberal education."
Research Across the Globe
Dr. Greg Rybarczyk of CAS's Department of Geography, Planning, and Environment recently spent time as a visiting scholar in BUW's Department of Urban Studies & Sustainable Infrastructure Planning. Much of the visit centered around his ongoing research on sustainable transportation. Flint and Wuppertal are are both post-industrial cities, he noted, so the research is easily transferable to the two locations and other similar cities interested in promoting bicycling.
While in Germany, Rybarczyk led a team of BUW doctoral and masters students. Together they looked at the relationship between human stress and bicyclists' wayfinding success in urban environments, with the ultimate goal of discovering where the most taxing places were along the routes. This information could provide planners and policymakers detailed information on proper intervention strategies.
The team utilized an array of tools such as GPS, gyrometers, accelerometers, and other attachable devices that can collect data with high spatial and temporal accuracy. They also relied heavily upon Geographic Information Systems or GIS—a system of collecting, managing, assessing, and visualizing data spatially. GIS is often used for research that, like Rybarczyk's, centers on transportation, and also for crime mapping, food access studies, neighborhood planning, analyzing population trends, environmental studies, and more.
A second phase of his research, according to Rybarczyk, will "be to implement a simulation model and predict bicyclist movement in a virtual GIS system, using data from the field. The research is a work in progress and so I am very interested in getting UM-Flint students involved as soon as possible, with the hope that they become part of future conference papers and publications."
After Rybarczyk returned, another ambassador from his department and the UM-Flint GIS Center traveled to Germany: UM-Flint senior Zachary Hayes. Said Rybarczyk, "Based on my fantastic experience at BUW and in the Department of Urban Studies & Sustainable Infrastructure, I thought Zach would be a perfect fit. Therefore, I was more than glad to facilitate his stay there. I am excited that it has come to fruition and that Zach is learning so much. And, more importantly, enjoying his stay! This makes me optimistic that he will be the first of many GPE students who have the opportunity to make BUW their study abroad home."
A UM-Flint Student Abroad
Hayes, who is an Energy & Sustainable Systems major and a City & Regional Planning minor, was excited for the opportunity to travel abroad in such a meaningful capacity and to continue Rybarczyk's work. "I will be picking up where he left off," said Hayes, "going over collected data and using GIS to map the results into a more visual representation of the data. The overall goal of the project is to effectively measure how different variables affect bicyclists' perception of their environment and how we can design cities that are safer for them." Hayes is also president of UM-Flint's FUEL (Future Urban & Environmental Leaders) Club.
Rybarczyk hopes that Hayes and future BUW exchange students not only learn academic lessons, but gain some important practical skills as well. "I believe learning self-reliance is essential in today's world. Students of course can learn this during their formal coursework, but there is nothing like having to channel it on a day-to-day basis while in a foreign country," noted Rybarczyk. "The other major benefit of becoming part of the BUW/UM-Flint student exchange program is that the student has a golden opportunity to become a global citizen and undoubtedly grow as a person."
Rybarczyk is proud of the work ethic and thirst for knowledge that Hayes will bring to the team at BUW. "Zach has excelled in nearly every aspect of his studies in the Department of Geography, Planning, and Environment," he said, "and I don't see this waning during his time at BUW."
A few weeks into his trip, Hayes was already producing meaningful work, yet taking time to enjoy his temporary home. "I'm working on taking the data that was gathered from the initial experiments…and putting it into map form using the GIS program QGIS," reported Hayes. "The main issue now is correlating GPS coordinates with the coordinate system of the road layer within the map. I have figured out a way to do this automatically. However, some of the GPS points were so far off of the actual road that the participants rode on, that the computer attached them to the incorrect roads. Now I must correct everything manually. But so far I love Germany and have been taking trips to Dusseldorf and Cologne by train and am preparing to go to Paris."
Education for Life
Rybarczyk is interested in assisting with the expansion of the UM-Flint/BUW partnership to benefit students from more departments within the College of Arts & Sciences. "Having international experience is an easy way to impress potential employers, especially in southeast Michigan where there are a multitude of international companies," he noted. "From a graduate school review committee perspective, a student who has studied abroad may set them apart from others in their cohort because they bring a broader worldview and an advanced set of skills."
He credits the support of UM-Flint for making these exchanges possible. He noted Claus Weimann, Academic Exchange Officer, Bob Houbeck, Director of the Thompson Library, Provost Douglas Knerr, and Dean Gano-Phillips as being especially instrumental. "I am very encouraged that with their continued sponsorship, the program will expand in scope over time," said Rybarczyk.
UM-Flint, along with its College of Arts & Sciences and other academic units, provides a variety of options for students interested in international travel. The Honors Program, for example, requires an off-campus semester for each of its students. Research positions, service learning, and internships also lead to life-changing experiences, both domestic and abroad.
"I would like to encourage students to broaden their perspectives by traveling and experiencing new ways of thinking," concluded Hayes. "Germany has shown me a different way of living, one that I think Americans could learn from."
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