Partnerships Position Northwestern for Global Impact

Diverse opportunities — like those in France — enrich the research experience for Northwestern faculty and students

By Roger AndersonNovember 13, 2017

France could be considered a grand terminal for global scholarship.

Institutions there, for instance, have played a greater role than most any US university in building connections between the Islamic world and the West, according to Will Reno, political science. Northwestern's Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa offers a partial exception to that rule, he says, because of its expertise in the study of Islamic manuscripts. Collaboration is key to such success. “Faculty relationships with colleagues abroad enhance research through connections to networks and resources that otherwise would be inaccessible or very difficult for us to access on our own,” says Reno, director of African Studies at Northwestern.

Reno’s partnership with the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) connects his research on the politics of conflict with one of the world's most extensive networks of scholars on the subject. Although he had professional colleagues at Sciences Po for some time, Reno credits Michael Loriaux, political science, and Loriaux’s efforts to establish the dual-degree program with getting him engaged more frequently.

In the time since, Northwestern researchers like Reno have explored how Islamic thought engages with the challenges of culturally diverse societies, societal inequality and injustice, the role of religious faith in the public sphere, and issues such as global warming. This scholarship is central to understanding how Islamic societies grapple with the changing world.

“The bridge to Sciences Po gave me an entree to a network of francophone scholars who work in Mali and other parts of the Sahel region of Africa,” says Reno, who has spent extensive time in the field, including in some of the world’s political hotspots, like Somalia and Iraq. “Those partners have assisted graduate students who work with me, which has been a great help in training those students and connecting them to professional networks.”

The bidirectional flow of students across the Atlantic has benefited Northwestern and various French institutions. The Buffett Institute’s French Interdisciplinary Group (FIG) boasts a successful doctoral student dual-degree program that allows students to study in both nations. The result is an alumni base with academic appointments throughout the world.

French postdoctoral fellows Johanna Salvant and Emeline Pouyet are active members at the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS). Salvant completed a postdoctoral appointment at the Van Gogh Museum and Ecole Superieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de Paris (ESPCI), and Pouyet completed her PhD studies at the ID21 beamline at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France. ESPCI is a world-class research institution, admitting just 90 students each year. ESRF is the world's most intense X-ray source and a center of excellence for fundamental and innovation-driven research in condensed and living matter science.

“We have attracted some really talented doctoral students who apply physical sciences to cultural heritage artifacts,” says Marc Walton, materials science and engineering and senior scientist at NU-ACCESS.  “We are hoping to leverage our partnerships with museums in Paris to provide new opportunities for our students to do the same type of research in Europe.”

Over the last academic year, 99 Northwestern undergraduate students participated in educational programming and research experiences in France through the Office of Undergraduate Learning Abroad. More than 100 French students and scholars took part in research and education opportunities at Northwestern in 2016-17.

Northwestern offers a number of undergraduate study abroad opportunities at institutional partners in France including specially designed programs, such as the European Union Studies program; the Art, Literature, and Contemporary European Thought program; and the Public Health in Europe program, as well as undergraduate student exchanges with Sciences Po and Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3.

“In addition to providing high-quality opportunities to our students at some of the best universities in France, these programs have, over time, also engendered faculty collaborations, such as joint research, workshops and publications,” says Vice President for International Relations Dévora Grynspan, who in her previous role as director of the Office of International Program Development developed the study abroad programs. “The ultimate goal is to build on these types of strategic partnerships to allow for more diverse scholarship and exchange opportunities for faculty and students.”

The French Interdisciplinary Group at Northwestern contributes to globalization by promoting long-term intellectual exchanges and collaborations among faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates in all fields, and their counterparts at leading French institutions.

Recent FIG research initiatives have included projects on conflict and stability in the Sahel region; critical theory, a distinctive strength of the humanities at Northwestern; and contemporary literature in English.

“The University’s global research connections enhance my own work and our overall project on security and governance in Africa through the blending of empirical approaches, the deep empirical knowledge of our collaborative partners, and the shared objective of engaging with and informing public policy in these domains,” says Rachel Beatty Riedl, political science and FIG director. “Together, we are able to expand our global impact and extend our comparative analysis.”

In 2016, FIG brought French historian Pap Ndiaye to campus as a visiting scholar. Ndiaye is a professor and researcher at Sciences Po, specializing in the social history of the United States, with a particular focus on minorities; the history of Chicago; the history of comparative civil rights in the United States; and the history of technology. This fall, he has remained in Evanston as the Buffett Visiting Professor in International Studies.

“It’s been a great pleasure to be at Northwestern, a great research university and also a warm academic community,” says Ndiaye. “Coming to Northwestern as a visiting professor was a wonderful opportunity to interact with colleagues I met while in Paris or in previous trips to the University. The Buffett Institute has been welcoming and I have attended several lectures, met students, and engaged with colleagues. The Institute will remain critically important as the social sciences become more and more global.”

Northwestern’s relationship with Sciences Po is one of the University’s strongest and most strategic partnerships. In 2016, it was recognized by the Institute for International Education with the IIE Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education in the category: International Partnerships. “The award shone light on our unique, multidimensional partnership with Sciences Po and is a testament to the success of our comprehensive relationship, which involves almost every school on campus and faculty from many different disciplines,” says Grynspan.

From Materials to Molecular Biosciences and Medicine

The connections between researchers at Northwestern and investigators in France are as strong as they are prevalent. In 2016, for instance, nearly two-dozen McCormick School of Engineering faculty members were engaged in research projects with French collaborators. Another 13 were invited speakers or conference participants.

In September, principal investigator Ken Shull and Marc Walton were part of a Northwestern team that was awarded a $4.2 million grant to launch a new research effort with colleagues’ in France, Italy, and The Netherlands, entitled Computationally-Based Imaging of Structure in Materials (CuBISM) . Shull and Walton will use the National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education award to examine historic art objects by developing computational and experimental tools to understand property degradation over long periods of time.

“This is a terrific example of bringing together different parts of the University — art history and materials science — to increase our exposure to some of the top scholars in the world,” says Shull. “I have longstanding collaborations with colleagues at ESPCI and these partnerships have informed a lot of my research over the past two decades.”

Over the past 30 years, Rick Morimoto, molecular biosciences, has been engaged in a variety of research activities with French colleagues, including Olivier Bensaude at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris (ENS). Currently, the pair is examining the molecular basis of cell stress transcription in an attempt to understand the principles that underlie cellular quality control — the integration of processes by which the cell senses, responds, and adapts to environmental and physiological challenges.

Morimoto has also taught an annual course on the dynamic properties of proteins in biology and disease at ENS. He continues to work with Bensaude on various scientific and educational cross-institutional initiatives, including a Partnership University Fund (provided by the Office of Science and Technology of the Embassy of France) grant to support a series of symposia at ENS and Northwestern, as well as an exchange of faculty and graduate students.

Robert Murphy, medicine: infectious diseases, has published more than three-dozen papers with colleagues in France since he first began work with researchers at Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC) some 19 years ago. A global leader in AIDS research, Murphy connected with a research group in Mali through their UPMC affiliation. Those collaborations have blossomed into three National Institutes of Health grants focused on HIV and tuberculosis, the Ebola virus, and emerging infectious diseases. In search of an HIV vaccine, Murphy found he was spending so much time in Paris that he bought an apartment there in 2003. In 2007, he was named a professeur associé — essentially a visiting professor supported by the French Ministry of Education.

“I spent 18 months in Paris working with my colleagues full time and while I was there, I helped form a French biotechnology company, InnaVirVax, which focused on improving the immunity of persons already infected with HIV,” Murphy says.

Overlapping with Murphy’s work in France is the Feinberg School of Medicine’s student exchange program, which has seen 45 students conduct clinical rotations at the Université de Strasbourg and beyond.

“English is the language of science and medicine, so even our non-French speaking students are able to get along quite well,” says Professor Emeritus Willard Fry, who continues to work on medical education exchanges between Northwestern and the Université de Strasbourg. “The Center for Global Health, directed by Dr. Murphy, has worked to make our exchange of students with Strasbourg a more seamless experience, and this year we will have four fourth-year students making the trip.”

Programs like the student exchange at the medical school are another way to enhance Northwestern’s global impact, while researchers like Murphy, Riedl, Reno, and many others continue to make globally significant discoveries.

“We have found that our strengths are often complementary with colleagues in France, and the French connection has helped us to leverage our knowledge to form new collaborations in Europe and beyond,” says Reno.

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