Illinois Strategic International Partnerships (ISIP), the Illinois-Sweden Program for Educational and Research Exchange (INSPIRE)

2016 Heiskell Award Winner: International Partnerships

Nomination submitted by: Tim Barnes, Director, Illinois Strategic International Partnerships

Program Overview:

The Illinois–Sweden Program for Educational and Research Exchange (INSPIRE) is a sustained, multi-faceted collaboration in research, education, and service among four world-class research institutions—the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm University, and the Karolinska Institutet.

As the pilot project of the Illinois Strategic International Partnerships initiative, this successful alliance provides a model for global leadership in higher education, research collaboration, and public engagement. The INSPIRE partnership measures success through its positive impact on students and faculty at each institution, and on the state, commercial, and civic societies of the state of Illinois and the country of Sweden.

INSPIRE has created a stable infrastructure and lowered administrative barriers for ongoing exchange of students, faculty, and staff. It has served as a "knowledge bridge" connecting the broader societies of the state of Illinois and the Stockholm region and has led to sustained collaborative research projects across many scholarly disciplines. At home in Illinois, INSPIRE has contributed to internationalization on the UI campus by forging ongoing interactions between faculty research groups and students, including public lectures by visiting Swedish faculty as well as an online “virtual student exchange” program.

After the first phase of this pilot, student mobility to Sweden has increased sevenfold, with more than 100 Illinois students engaging in innovative, high-quality learning-abroad experiences in Sweden, and a similar number of Swedish students coming to UI. A somewhat narrowly focused partnership based on specific faculty linkages has grown to engage more than 100 Illinois faculty from 11 different colleges across the campus, with research collaborations that resulted in more than 45 co-authored publications in peer-reviewed journals.

The central campus also supported several large events crucial to expanding INSPIRE activities—two major joint research symposia, and two leadership summits. Support for these events, along with seed funding for initial INSPIRE projects, totaled approximately $425,000 in institutional funds from Illinois. A conservative assessment of "return on investment" has identified more than $17.5 million in external research funding. In addition to faculty research, the partnership has produced a number of concrete results in the areas of student education and public engagement.

Highlights of education results include: an innovative, inter-disciplinary learning-abroad course focused on climate change and its effects on the cultures, geographies, ecologies, and economies of the Arctic, which provides students from Illinois and Sweden with a unique opportunity to conduct field research together in the Arctic circle; an undergraduate research-abroad program that resulted in an exceptional Illinois undergraduate student serving as the lead author on an article published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal; and a learning-abroad exchange program for students in speech pathology and audiology.

On the public engagement side, INSPIRE faculty organized a study visit to Stockholm for public housing officials in the city of Chicago and at HUD to discuss energy efficient retrofitting and rehabilitation of group public housing facilities, with a reciprocal visit to Chicago by Stockholm practitioners. The Innovation Immersion Program, a student business consulting service that has engaged with tech companies from Israel, Singapore, and Sweden, has formed linked chapters in Stockholm and Illinois to extend student collaborations.

"Collaboration in research is a multiplier that grows with practice. Strategic partnerships ensure sustained opportunities to engage with complementary expertise, access nontraditional sources of funding support, and achieve broad impact. For students, international learning experiences enrich their appreciation of cultural differences, and provide merits for career choices in a global economy. Strategic partnerships guarantee institutional memory and direct lines of communication between sending and hosting institutions to optimize the study-abroad experience."

—Harry Dankowicz,
Professor, Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering
Professor, Information Trust Institute (ITI)
Faculty Liaison, INSPIRE Alliance
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Learn more about the nomination and program objectives