To conclude the first module of the 2012 Sustainable Europe summer course, the students and I traveled to the city of Bern to discuss the notion of sustainable development with senior government officials and a researcher at the University of Bern. Our first meeting with U.S. Ambassador Donald Beyer, Susan Elbow (Deputy Chief of Mission), and Alex Daniels (Press and Cultural Attaché) provided the students with an excellent opportunity to learn about the close diplomatic and economic relationships that exist between the U.S. and Switzerland. This is the second time Ambassador Beyer has welcomed VT/UVA students taking the summer program and I believe this meeting/conversation is one of the highlights of the course. I encourage you to explore each of the students’ blogs to read more about the questions they asked during this meeting.
Our second meeting with Stefan Ruchti (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs), Daniel Wachter (Head of the Sustainable Development Section, Federal Office for Spatial Development), Daniel Dubas (Federal Office for Spatial Development), and Lorenz Kurtz (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs) was held at the impressive Bernerhof building. The topic of the meeting was the Swiss Government’s Sustainable Development Strategy. Having spent more than a decade thinking deeply about sustainable development, I was particularly interested in hearing Daniel Wachter’s presentation on how sustainable development is being operationalized in Switzerland. During the meeting, the students had an opportunity to apply the knowledge they had developed during the first module of the course by engaging Stefan, Daniel, Daniel, and Lorenz in a conversation about strategies to promote sustainable development. This conversation proved to be a valuable way to connect the theories/concepts the students had researched to the real-world challenges of creating a national sustainable development strategy.
Our final meeting was held at the University of Bern, where Fabian Streiff (a PhD candidate in Economic Geography) provided a detailed overview of the photovoltaic industry in Europe and Switzerland and explored the potential expansion of this industry domestically in the context of the Swiss Cleantech Strategy. Following this meeting, we toured the University of Bern and I had the opportunity to speak with Ellen Krause (Executive Director of the International Office, University of Bern) and Zoë Ghielmetti (Executive Director of International and National Relations, University of Bern) about the new student exchange agreement established between Virginia Tech and the University of Bern. This agreement enables students from each institution to study at the partner institution while receiving academic credit at their home institution.