Twenty University of Wisconsin Oshkosh students traveled to Germany for a week-long seminar about sustainability at the Viessmann Academy in addition to visiting Berlin, the capital of Germany.
Prior to leaving on Monday, May 23, students participated in classroom instruction and orientation at UW Oshkosh, where they learned background information on sustainability, business, and the history, geography and culture of Germany.
“The broader purpose of the trip is an intercultural exchange about sustainability in a place that is truly living it,” said Nathan Stuart, UWO associate professor of accounting and one of two faculty mentors on the trip.
Students attended a week-long sustainability seminar at Viessmann, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of efficient, reliable and affordable heating products, headquarters in Allendorf, Germany, where they worked alongside German students to propose a solution to a question or issue, which they then present to Viessmann leadership on their last day.
“It’s an intense experience for our students to work with German students with only four days to prepare their presentations for the CEO and they all did a good job,” Stuart said.
Watch the video created by one of the student groups in the Viessmann Sustainability Seminar:
For spring 2016 graduate and radio TV film major Tyler Stricker, of Beaver Dam, his time at Viessmann showed him how much more everyone can do to be sustainable.
“I saw the efforts that Viessmann took to be one of the most sustainable businesses in Germany, and it opened my eyes to how much waste goes on in the U.S.,” Stricker said.
The classroom sessions prior to leaving for Germany gave Stricker a solid foundation on what sustainability is and why it is important to businesses.
“Once I got to Viessmann, they lectured about the efforts they take and the progress they have made and it was a delightful surprise,” Stricker said. “I think that it has motivated me to try and be more aware of sustainability and try to make better decisions that benefit the earth.”
In addition to attending lectures and working on a group project at Viessmann Academy, students spent time in Berlin to learning about that city and German history, culture and geography. Faculty mentor Heike Alberts, originally from Berlin, led students through historic and tourist sites, such as Brandenburg Gate, Bernauer Strasse, Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust Memorial and the Bundestag.
“Since I am a native of Berlin, I can also show them some places of interest that few tourists see and tell them stories about what it was like to grow up in Berlin while the Wall was there,” Alberts said. “My dad always talks to the students as well to give them the perspective of somebody who experienced WWII as well as the construction and fall of the Berlin Wall. The students usually love the personal stories they get this way.”
Being able to learn about history and then see where it happened really helped junior business accounting and management major Marissa Widenski, of Oak Creek, apply what she had learned.
“It made me realize that traveling to a new place to gain new experiences is a great thing that gives me new perspectives and views,” Widenski said. “I have also realized that in order to become more sustainable in this world, UWO, Wisconsin and the United States has a lot of room for improvement.”
The immersion into another culture and seeing sustainability first-hand and lived out at Viessmann is an experience that can’t be replicated in the classroom, Stuart said.
“One way or another, choices made locally ripple out into the global economy, infrastructure or economy. Anything we do here at UWO, we need to have awareness for how our actions impact others,” Stuart said. “An experience like this really brings that home.”
Studying abroad broadens students’ horizons and makes them more aware of cultural differences, Alberts said.
“The strength of the Viessmann program is that it combines different aspects into a coherent whole: German history, geography and culture to give the students knowledge and a better understanding of another culture and country, sustainability—Germany is one of the leading countries with sustainability initiatives—and business,” Alberts said.”
“The most amazing thing for me is still how much students change in just a few days,” Alberts said. “For many, this is is the first time that they actually experience another culture directly, work together with people from another country and ‘live’ another way of life.”
Twenty Viessmann employees are currently attending a four-week leadership development program at UW Oshkosh as part of Viessmann Group and UWO’s partnership and commitment to sustainability and education.