AWARE – interviewed
6 Years of AWARE: Review and Forecast
The DAAD start-up financing in order to develop the strategic AWARE network expired in 2018. Local AWARE coordinators and supporters review essential measures and steps taken within the last six years and give some insights into the various perspectives, needs and stock of experience that make the AWARE network unique and why it is worth to be supported in the future.
Which measures and activities during the last years turned out to be most successful and which of them do have the potential to last in the future even without the DAAD funding?
Lohmeier From a strategic point of view, the annually organized eMobility Forum as an interdisciplinary exchange platform for academia, industry and politics turned out to be an extremely valuable cooperative experience. On the one hand, we hereby established an important channel for the exchange of knowhow and expertise in mobility technologies; on the other hand, participation of external partners was free of charge or any further obligations, which made it relatively easy to attract partners from all sectors. Furthermore, especially the cyclical nature of our forum helped us to consolidate the event and our partner network. Speaking of consolidation, we are currently facing a huge challenge regarding the sustainability of our activities. International exchange and mobility are an expensive business and our budget currently can´t guarantee the continuity of annual personal meetings. Here, I´d like to take the opportunity to thank especially to FAPESC and FA for their constant financial support regarding their scholarship program for the Brazilian double degree student at THI. Nevertheless, we are currently evaluating which digital methods might support us to keep this unique exchange platform alive: joint student projects via Moodle or multiple digital communication channels and social networks through which our formula student teams stay permanently updated, only to name some. Besides, we are in touch with our THI Learning Lab, our experimental space for digital teaching and learning methodologies. We are quite optimistic that together with our Learning Lab we can effectively implement such joint digitalization processes to the benefit of AWARE and its partners. It goes without saying that digitalization cannot replace face-to-face-meetings and personal exchange, which is why our formula student electric teams are looking for sponsors to realize further eMobility Forums at least every once a while in Germany and Brazil. And on a national level, UFSC has already achieved to establish an annual eMobility week in Brazil. In short, joint event formats as hubs for academia, industry and politics turned out to be our most successful ones. Actually, we have already received first requests from further universities in Brazil to copy the eMobility Forum in other states of Brazil.
Gargioni The consistent application-oriented approach of THI (as the name “AWARE” already indicates), which is fairly new at federal universities, has found fertile ground in Brazil and could soon run on its own, especially regarding the established contacts with local industry partners in the last six years. Many industrial projects with reference to teaching and research showed us a model of suitable structures of cooperation. Let´s take the AIM project as an example: here UFPR and UFSC develop together with the experience of THI professors study courses in close cooperation with the local industry. Once these channels are opened up and mutual trust is established, further cooperation in research projects is not far away. Furthermore, by gaining support from industry or DAAD, we hereby diversify our financial basis and break up with our strong dependency from public funding, which – in turn – makes them particularly sustainable. Depending less from public financing programs is an important aspect, mainly during the current crisis in Brazil. Duarte The approval of the AWARE project by DAAD and the resulting interactions with THI brought to UFPR a number of interesting possibilities. From the standpoint of UFPR, the opening of possible internships in Germany for UFPR students was a great achievement, since they could start tightening a relationship with German industry. Also, THI fostered the opportunity for undergraduate UFPR students to do their research during their period abroad, and in some cases even their undergraduate final works were done in THI laboratories. In 2016, the Spring School in Automotive Engineering at Curitiba drew a number of skilled researchers from THI to our institution who gave important lectures on advanced topics. That particular event included the participation of Brazilian students and engineers, but also of a high number of applicants from other countries, including Germany, India and Malaysia. But the most important outcome of our collaboration was definitely the master’s double-degree in Automotive Engineering at THI with the UFPR Departments of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. Of course, funding is always crucial to the maintenance of those collaborations, but we think that even without DAAD grants many of those activities shall remain active. Most particularly, I think that the master´s double-degree in Automotive Engineering is strategic for us and will remain active even in the absence of DAAD funding. As a matter of fact, so far student mobility has been financed in Brazil by the Araucária Foundation, abbreviated FA, and sometimes by the student’s personal resources.
Ackermann In the last four years, I have supported the establishment of our Airbus Mentoring Program. As a part of this program, we offer students in the AWARE network the opportunity to take part in an international meeting to discuss experience and practices at our Manching site close to Ingolstadt. This enables us to introduce new perspectives and ways of thinking into our departments and to make our teams more international – factors that are indispensable for a company committed to creating innovative products with cutting-edge technology. In tandem with this “brain-to-brain knowledge transfer”, we are currently beginning our initial research activities with an industrial partner. It is my hope, or even my expectation, that our joint mentoring program and joint research will have a mutually beneficial effect and contribute towards consolidating further joint activities. Furthermore, Brazil is of particular interest to us because it is in the process of becoming an emerging economic power and achieving a high level of added value. We also very much appreciate our close cultural ties with Brazil.
Where do you see the benefit from a network such as AWARE?
Lohmeier Social capital. From my point of view, it is the mutual trust that helps us to implement project ideas extremely fast. We try to combine professional knowledge, know-how, short communication channels and helpful contacts between our partners with a particularly strong emphasis on personal communication, openness and flexibility. In short, our collaboration built upon mutual trust: We believe strongly in the recommendations, suggestions, and also complaints expressed by our partners. Thus, we waste no time in building confidence or persuasion. This trust is a result of a long-standing collaborative experience. During this time, errors were tolerated and risks had to be taken. At this point, the generous promotion provided by DAAD has to be mentioned, as this cooperation would not have been possible without this reliable financial planning security.
Gargioni As former president of CONFAP, the Brazilian National Council of State Research Support Foundations, and in the name of FAPESC, I can assure that the mission of our foundation is to contribute to macrosocial value or rather welfare in Santa Catarina through problem-oriented research. AWARE, especially the recently launched project AIM, serves as an important basis for Southern Brazil to become a place where automotive companies can not only produce cars, but also conduct research and development on cars and further high-technology products. Apart from political regulations, this is only possible if we prepare our students to leave university as high-professional engineers. So, from my perspective, each Real invested in an AWARE-scholarship for Brazilian students by our foundation becomes an important long-term investment in our society’s future.
Ackermann AWARE offers us easy and relatively direct access to talented and ambitious students and scientists in Brazil, who give us long-term support in expanding our high-tech strategy throughout Germany, Europe and beyond. We are creating an untapped pool of resources while at the same time building an international network that will allow us to respond effectively and efficiently to future personnel requirements and increasing competition, both strategically and on an operational level.
Duarte Since the beginning of the collaboration between UFPR and THI researchers, the partnership has been based on trust and good-spirit, always respecting each other’s own identity and thus fostering an ethos that emphasized commonality. This shared common intention greatly facilitated the development of projects and even enabled our professors to reach achievements that seemed to be impossible before, such as the possibility of doing research with German companies. These aspects left their mark on our network, resulting in the mixture of German planning and Brazilian creativity, a combination that perfectly matched. Those good results have been achieved especially because THI brought together German expertise and excellence in the automotive field, and that also opened new opportunities with the Brazilian automotive sector. The globalization of research topics favors international partnerships and these can provide an increased interaction between Brazil’s industrial sector and UFPR researchers.
To our German partners: What did you learn from the Brazilian partners? What would you like to learn from them in the future?
Lohmeier It is the Brazilian stamina and their tenacity that maintained our network even under the most adverse circumstances. Prof. Dr. Alessandro Zimmer is an excellent example, our “man of the first hour”. He played an important part in initiating the AWARE network in Brazil. And he now lives in Ingolstadt with his family in order to build up a small German-Brazilian research group working on the topics sensors, lasers and radar at the research and test center CARISSMA. The established group is made up of four Brazilian scientists and of improvisation and the risk appetite to achieve the highest scientific output even though the money has not always been sufficient and students had to take some risks to come to Germany without any financial security. So, what the safety-oriented German partners have definitely learned is: Where there is a will, there is a way.
Ackermann I have been working in mixed international teams for some years now. I can only agree with Ms. Lohmeier – Brazilians are hard-working, particularly those from the southern metropolitan areas around São Paulo, Paraná and Santa Catarina, where our AWARE network is also firmly established. Personally, I can say – and this has always been the case for AWARE – that the Brazilians can teach us a great deal when it comes to improvisation. Change and unpredictable situations are perfectly routine – both in people’s private lives and on a day-to-day basis at work. In order to be able to improvise quickly and flexibly, you also need to have a relationship based on trust, or at least tend to build informal rather than formal relationships, which isn’t always the case in Germany. I very much appreciate the mutual trust in the AWARE network where there is no pressure from one side to deliver results, and we mainly have to thank our Brazilian colleagues, the AWARE organization and THI for that.
To our Brazilian partners: What did you learn from the German counterpart? What would you like to learn from them in the future?
Duarte I can surely testify that the partnership with THI has helped us to closely collaborate with the industrial sector, since in Brazil there is a historical gap between universities and the automotive sector, one we have to overcome as soon as possible. In short, the partnership with THI helped us to open new research frontiers and opportunities, favoring lasting and mutual collaboration in applied research with foreign and national industries. Without this network, that particular challenge would certainly have been almost impossible to overcome. But we still have to get more insight in how to closely work with local industry, above all when speaking about research in technological areas like mechanical and electrical engineering. So, from our German partners we would like to keep learning in the future how to establish lasting connections with the industrial sector, how to incorporate industry staff into university’s academic programs, and how to strengthen the links between universities and automotive industries.
Gargioni There were many lessons taught on both sides. When we had the first opportunity to work with the AWARE network, the challenge allowed us to have great insights into automotive research and to get in touch with high-level institutions in this field. We hope that the Brazilian scholars in Germany will use their experience to broaden the cooperation, eventually extend it to other areas and transfer it to Brazil. They could be our future “ambassadors” to help Brazil to approach research and development differently.
What are the biggest challenges and chances for AWARE in order to succeed in the future?
Lohmeier An excellent chance is, in my opinion, the opportunity to connect AWARE, as one of the most extensive strategic partnership at THI until now, with further research and network projects in order to
use synergies. Regarding our recently started Third-Mission-project “Mensch in Bewegung”, we could establish, as part of AWARE, a comprehensive empirical knowledge regarding governance of complex networks between university and extramural organizations. However, what counts most, we especially learned a lot of research for and with the society from the Brazilian university partners that are, with their “extension” departments, a huge step ahead of the German universities which lack behind some decades. As we will not have a comprehensive funding like the one from DAAD in 2019, it will be challenging to continue with these multiple facets, AWARE’s main characteristic. Therefore, we have to adjust our extensive project ideas to funding programs that often only target a determined facet of exchange such as research or doctrine. In contrast to other exchange programs, mobility has never been an end in itself but has always served a certain project or academic mission.
Gargioni In my opinion, the biggest challenge is the rapid flux these days. AWARE requires an extremely agile management in order to master upcoming challenges and necessary impulses. In dynamic times, one risks to grow old very fast, that applies to dynamic networks, too. In my view, AWARE has huge potential, thanks to its social network of young, talented and highly motivated students on the one hand; on the other hand, AWARE – as a scientific network – counts on the support of many highly and voluntarily engaged people who are driven by curiosity and have the guts to try new ways of doing things. Innovation comes up with questioning established ways of thinking and working. We should definitely keep this rare combination of young and curious people as well as politics, scientists and economists. If we keep going as we have, I am more than confident that AWARE can make a difference.
Ackermann I attended an AWARE conference in Curitiba in 2016 myself, and was very impressed by what the professors and students, the managers of tomorrow, had established, and how their enthusiasm and efforts had translated into solid engineering skills. I believe that the challenge now is to keep the flames of enthusiasm burning as time goes on and not to allow other, outside forces to overshadow what has been achieved here. For me, a model like AWARE should not only remain oriented towards Brazil; it can also open up opportunities to establish a long-term institutional exchange between international universities, international students and Airbus as a universal model of cooperation.
Duarte Since the beginning of our interactions with our German partners, one of our main challenges was not being able to assign a dedicated institutional-administrative staff at UFPR. And this is most necessary when it comes to helping our professors and researchers with the organization of all the work and activities that should happen after the signing of a formal agreement between institutions located in very different countries such as THI and UFPR. At THI, the DAAD funding for AWARE provided financial resources to hire a local coordinator, with exclusive duties towards the project’s success. Such arrangement was not possible at UFPR, so the administrative activities of AWARE and all the interactions with THI and the German industries had to be absorbed by some members of the professor´s staff in a voluntary manner – on top of their regular teaching and research responsibilities. As a result, on many occasions the response time to administrative issues and problems on the Brazilian side was definitively longer than on the side of the German partner. We are working towards the possibility of having more efficient institutional support for international projects – especially those as important as AWARE – but unfortunately, federal universities in Brazil suffer from a longstanding shortage of administrative personnel.
In your opinion, how important is AWARE nowadays and what should it offer in the future in order to be a network worth supporting? Which potential do you see in AWARE for the near future?
Duarte As Head of the UFPR International Agency, I can assure that the AWARE network is strategic and considered our most important academic collaboration concerning engineering and mobility. UFPR coordinates many networks with other universities around the world, but since AWARE is an application-oriented network, inspired by common research and economic interests from both countries, I think it is unique and therefore a partnership of high importance for us. Regarding its potential, I believe that UFPR has not yet fully exploited it. One way to do so is to fully integrate it into different departments and faculties. So far, only the faculties of electrical and mechanical engineering have been involved, but there are many others that could easily participate and add different contributions. Regarding the research and test center of THI, CARISSMA, and the safety operation of electric vehicles, chemistry comes to mind in particular. But what about working on something with Humanities? Recently I heard about your project “Mensch in Bewegung”. I can imagine that THI could cover the topic “motion”, whereas UFPR could cover the topic “human”. That would mean connecting technology philosophy with technology impact assessment. In this sense, the Psychology Graduate Program at UFPR has an interesting research field on traffic psychology, human mobility and risk prevention that definitely should be integrated into these research activities.
Gargioni I can only agree with Mr. Duarte regarding the importance of AWARE. I also think, and at this point I guess I speak as a representative for all Brazilian participants, that AWARE’s success is due to its application-orientation, building a bridge between universities and industry. In Brazil, we definitely lack this kind of bridges and they are even more challenges due to very different cultures and cooperation traditions in academia and industry. So, we consider AWARE as a showcase for Brazil to establish similar network projects between Brazil and other foreign countries. So, looking to the near future, I would strongly welcome more exchange between researching professors through longer stays abroad, the German model of a “Forschungssemester”, an exclusive research semester for professors, is only an example. This would bring a multiplier effect encouraging more and more young students to dare a study semester abroad. My personal interest lies in getting into a stronger exchange with German research foundations in order to understand better – and possibly learn from each other – how public research can be stimulated and supported by reducing bureaucratic obstacles at the same time.
Ackermann As an industry representative, AWARE is an ideal network, since we can bring together a variety of interests and unleash their potential without having to make any commitments. This relaxed discourse in a more or less protected area allows us to identify potential topics and projects exactly as we see fit. AWARE therefore is of great importance to me, not only professionally, but also personally. This is mainly because I appreciate AWARE’s informal, trust-based atmosphere and realize time and time again that I also benefit personally from the network’s positive momentum.