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WKU group discusses project’s goals with Iceland’s president, other officials

Following the signing of a formal cooperative agreement on March 23 in Akureyri, Iceland, between WKU, the University of Akureyri (UNAK), and the Icelandic Arctic Cooperation Network (IACN), the delegation participated in several joint meetings with Icelandic officials during the remainder of their visit. These meetings included an invited visit with the President of Iceland, Ólafur Grímsson at Bessastaðir, the Presidential residence, in Reykjavik.

WKU's meetings in Iceland included a visit to the Presidential residence in Reykjavik. From left: WKU Geography & Geology’s Dr. Jason Polk and Dr. Leslie North, University of Akureyri Rector Eyjolfur Guomundsson, Iceland President Olafur Grimsson, WKU President Gary A. Ransdell, WKU Scholar in Residence Dr. Bernie Strenecky, and Icelandic Arctic Cooperation Network's Director Embla Eir Oddsdottir. (WKU photo by Jeff Younglove)

WKU’s meetings in Iceland included a visit to the Presidential residence in Reykjavik. From left: WKU Geography & Geology’s Dr. Jason Polk and Dr. Leslie North, University of Akureyri Rector Eyjolfur Guomundsson, Iceland President Olafur Grimsson, WKU President Gary A. Ransdell, WKU Scholar in Residence Dr. Bernie Strenecky, and Icelandic Arctic Cooperation Network’s Director Embla Eir Oddsdottir. (WKU photo by Jeff Younglove)

The WKU group, led by President Gary Ransdell, included Scholar in Residence Dr. Bernie Strenecky and faculty members Dr. Jason Polk and Dr. Leslie North of the Department of Geography and Geology. They joined UNAK Rector Eyjólfur Guðmundsson and IACN Director Embla Eir Oddsdóttir in a series of meetings to discuss the goals of the new joint agreement and also the broader topics of climate change and the Arctic. This included a meeting with Iceland’s President to convey the mutual goals of the partners for academic exchanges and joint course offerings, research initiatives, capacity building, economic development activities, and service-learning through the North Atlantic Climate Change Collaboration (NAC3) project. (More: Additional information about the project is available at www.wku.edu/iceland)

“The hour and a half we spent with President Grimsson while in Reykjavik may prove to be the most productive of our meetings in Iceland,” Dr. Ransdell said. “He is a world leader in understanding the impact of climate change. He is most interested in our climate change work there, and in the possibility that we may connect Iceland with countries in the Caribbean — at the other end of the all-important Gulf Stream. He pledged to track our work and become personally engaged in our future academic endeavors.”

During the group’s meeting, President Grímsson discussed the importance of this “brilliant new collaboration” between UNAK and WKU and the need for more international, interdisciplinary work on addressing the global impacts of climate change. He emphasized the importance of the United States in taking over Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in April, which is the leading international circumpolar forum for addressing Arctic issues. Its membership includes the United States and Iceland, as well as six other member states representing all the Arctic states and their indigenous peoples. The agreement signed in Akureyri earlier in the week aligns with the mission of the Council to further develop relationships between Artic nations. Dr. Ransdell and President Grímsson also discussed why the changing Arctic is important to Kentucky in the context of climate change and the opportunities provided through this new agreement for students and future generations to study and research the processes and potential solutions for remediation and adaptation.

WKU President Gary Ransdell presented a piece of original artwork by WKU junior Katie Adams to Iceland President Olafur Grimsson. (WKU photo by Jeff Younglove)

WKU President Gary Ransdell presented a piece of original artwork by WKU junior Katie Adams to Iceland President Olafur Grimsson. (WKU photo by Jeff Younglove)

The culmination of the meeting with President Grímsson was a presentation of a piece of original artwork by WKU junior Katie Adams. Adams visited Iceland during the summer 2014 Semester at Sea study abroad course and was inspired by the experience and her newfound awareness of the impacts of climate change on ecosystems, specifically the Icelandic horse. The color pencil drawing depicted an Icelandic horse by the water, with the its reflection not mirroring its own image, but rather a Kentucky Thoroughbred and jockey using a clever technique by the artist of asymmetrical reflection. Dr. Ransdell and Rector Guðmundsson presented President Grímsson with this as a symbol of the joining of two cultures and two countries as they work together to address global issues through learning and research, particularly in the areas of Arctic science and climate change education.

Scholar in Residence Bernie Strenecky said: “Our collaboration with UNAK and the IACN can serve as a model for how universities can work together in addressing critical scientific and social issues. It is comprehensive because it includes teaching, research, and service. We are eager to further develop this approach as a methodology for future partnership building.”

Additionally, the WKU/UNAK/IACN group met with Hellen Gunnarsdóttir, the Director of the Department of Education and Science, and her staff to discuss innovative strategies for joint cooperation on teaching courses involving both WKU and UNAK students and faculty and engaging them in international experiences. The group also met with RANNIS, the Icelandic governmental entity responsible for providing the majority of research funding in the country, to discuss cooperative ways in which to conduct research through the NAC3 project. Finally, the team wrapped up its activities in Iceland with a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Reykjavik to outline the goals of the cooperative agreement and discuss the importance of involving students from the U.S. and abroad in exploring Arctic issues in the country.

“Our agenda in Iceland included more than completing our new climate change teaching and research agreement with the University of Akureyri,” Dr. Ransdell said. “It also included extensive discussions in Reykjavik with the Icelandic Education Ministry, the President of Iceland, Icelandic research funding agencies, and the U.S. Embassy — all of which are most interested in our study of the Arctic and climate change. They, like us at WKU, seek solutions and remediations. These new partnerships hold great promise for WKU’s international reach with timely relevancy.”

Here are some photos from the WKU group’s trip to Iceland. (WKU photos by Jeff Younglove)

Contact: Jason Polk, Jason.polk@wku.edu or (270) 745-5015

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