By Nan Price, Content Manager, MetroHartford Alliance
Daniel Weiner, Ph.D., Vice President for Global Affairs at the University of Connecticut, spoke about the ways in which UConn is fostering global connections and making an economic impact in Connecticut.
NAN PRICE: Tell us about your role at UConn and the importance of cultivating global affairs.
DANIEL WEINER: When I came to UConn six and a half years ago, I was offered a job to lead “International Affairs.” I requested that the title change to Global Affairs because phrasing as “international” creates a false dualism between domestic and international, whereas global embeds the local.
The way we approach global affairs is to start at home. So, while my job is to establish and nurture the global footprint of the University of Connecticut, we’re very conscious of the reality that a global perspective needs to start locally.
If you look at Greater Hartford—and Connecticut more broadly—there’s a lot of global business. We also have a remarkable diversity of people from all over the world speaking multiple languages.
We need to think of this as a comparative advantage. There’s a structural labor shortage throughout the country and the types of labor we need are going to require immigration. Multicultural Greater Hartford is part of our attraction. In Connecticut overall, one of our advantages is we are viewed as an open, multicultural, tolerant, global space. Diversity and innovation are the oxygen of this country—we need the best and the brightest from everywhere, whether they come from Willimantic, Bangladesh, or Singapore.
NAN: In what ways does UConn create a global impact?
DANIEL: UConn is global. We have more than 225 MOUs in 163 institutions in more than 50 countries around the world. As part of our global strategy, we partner with cutting-edge research universities around the world and develop top-notch locations for students to study abroad.
And UConn draws in students from all over the world; one example is the UConn School of Business in Hartford, which provides a global feel and changes the character of the city.
One of the reasons international students come to Connecticut is because we have exceptional universities. They also come with the hope that they can stay in Connecticut, get jobs here, and either live here permanently or stay for part of their career.
Hartford used to be a place where you came to work and left at night—maybe on the weekend you would come to the city to see a performance or attend a sporting event. Greater Hartford is finally becoming a destination for young people to consider as a place to live, engage with the city, and develop a career.
When I hire someone from out of state to come work at UConn, I always enjoy talking them about Greater Hartford because they’re usually very positive. It’s important that people coming here have a positive feeling about the place and give us a fresh perspective.
Upward Hartford is one organization that’s helping with our positive message. It’s bringing in more startups and helping change the culture. Upward’s partnership with Connecticut Innovations is transformative. It enables them to invest in new companies and new ideas.
NAN: In what ways does UConn support job placement in Connecticut and contribute to the state’s economic development?
DANIEL: More than 1,000 UConn students a year participate in educational programs all over the world. We help prepare them for careers in the global market, because companies are looking for skilled labor that is also culturally competent. They are seeking global citizens.
I don’t think people realize the extent of the relationship between Connecticut and Germany for economic development. We should be talking about that—and we’re starting to.
One example is our German International Engineering Program, Eurotech, which offers a dual degree in engineering and German. In the fifth year of this program, students do an internship in Germany. These students are fluent in German and gain experience interning at an engineering firm in Germany before they return to Connecticut. There’s a lot of German industry in the state of Connecticut. These young folks receive multiple job offers.
We are now building on the successful EuroTech model blending engineering, the humanities, and language acquisition and creating new programs in China, France, and Spain. If UConn can provide those types of experiences to prepare students for the global workforce, it adds an additional incentive for global companies in Connecticut to offer jobs that keep graduates here in the state.
NAN: You recently visited Israel. Can you tell us about some of the partnerships with universities there?
DANIEL: UConn is really pleased about the relationships we’ve built with universities in Israel. We partner with their leading research institutions to create potential impact on economic development for the state and the Greater Hartford region.
I was in Israel in November for two weeks. One of the universities I visited was Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which is one of the leaders in cybersecurity. The state of Connecticut views itself as a potential place for leading cybersecurity companies. We’re now connecting cybersecurity researchers at UConn with cybersecurity researchers at Ben-Gurion. Hopefully, those types of relationships lead to people launching companies, creating intellectual property, and potentially having companies move to Connecticut from Israel.
UConn is also working with the American Technion Society, which is a fundraising branch of The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. A UConn alumnus donated $500,000 to The Technion as a challenge. UConn and The Technion had to raise another $500,000, which we did. We now have Technion scientists and UConn scientists working on alternative energy research projects. We funded three projects this year, one of which is around fuel cells, an industry that’s very important for the state of Connecticut.
And UConn is part of the Metabolic Research Alliance (MRA), a consortium formed in 2016 that includes The Jackson Laboratory, Yale University, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Researchers from all four institutions are working on metabolic research, specifically regarding diseases leading to obesity and diabetes, which is becoming a global epidemic. It’s another example of how UConn can bring top scientists together to develop innovative scientific discoveries and potentially lead to concrete economic development and new drug therapy regimes for patients.
NAN: As chair the Global Business Council for the MetroHartford Alliance, what message do you feel needs to be shared with the region?
DANIEL: I think part of what we need to do is have good data that helps us tell our story. Because at the end of the day, economic development for every state has a global component. Connecticut has some important advantages—our schools, universities, labor force, locations, and quality of life. We need to understand our state in a global context, feel proud of it, and promote it.