Golden Bears, Golden Times

A personal report about the Kutztown Visiting Faculty Summer Fellowship

June 2, 2018, Frankfurt airport. Sabrina and I are waiting for our flight to New York City. Unreal – that’s maybe the best word to describe the situation. Of course, we applied for the fellowship and knew that we will start off into this 3-week-adventure, but when the time has finally come, it is still hard to realize. So, what fellowship? What adventure? Let’s start from the beginning!

Kutztown University (KU) has invited five visiting faculty from other institutions of higher education around the world to participate in summer fellowships. The fellowship will give the academics time to work on scholarly projects from June 4 to June 22, 2018. The faculty fellowships are sponsored by the KU Division of Academic Affairs to cultivate national and international academic connections and increase the possibility of collaborative projects. And, Sabrina and I are two of those faculty The group is complemented by artist Erika Stearly, linguist Dr. Jeffrey Punske, and assistant professor Dayni Diaz Mederos.
Visiting scholars: Sabrina Maaß, Jil Sörensen, Jeffrey Punske, Erika Stearly

Visiting scholars: Sabrina Maaß, Jil Sörensen, Jeffrey Punske, Erika Stearly

June 4, 2018, Kutztown Bieber Bus Terminal. We made it! After a quick stop-over in New York we have safely arrived in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. It’s a small town which normally hosts about 5.000 inhabitants and 10.000 students. As almost all students have left already for summer break, the town and campus appear a bit like a ghost town – empty dorms, closed cafeterias, and many free seats in the library. However, we were welcomed very warmly by our hosts Dr. Emily Cripe and Dr. Jennifer Schlegel. We first met Emily and Jen picking us up at the bus terminal. They showed as around and accompanied us during the three weeks arranging lunch dates with KU faculty staff, providing recommendations what to do and see, and inviting us over for dinner. They were a great support, as you can imagine.
June 5, 2018, KU Campus South Dining Hall. The fellowship’s first official appointment was a joint dinner with all visiting scholars, KU hosts, and program responsibles. Dr. Derek Mace, who also teaches once a year at the Hamburg Media School, had the idea for the program and organized it together with Jeffrey Werner, director of the Office of Grants and Sponsored Projects. They were supported by the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Anne Zayaitz. They all attended the dinner welcoming us and providing information about the following three weeks. It was a perfect evening – interesting and interested people from all academic disciplines, inspired exchange of ideas, and excellent food – until Derek mentioned the presentation all scholars need to hold at the symposium, which would take place during the last week of the program. For a moment we were a bit shocked: We thought we would have a little discussion at a round table, but not a proper talk in front of undergraduates and the President of the University. But, okay, challenge accepted: So let’s go to work!
Sabrina Maaß, Derek Mace, and Jil Sörensen

Sabrina Maaß, Derek Mace, and Jil Sörensen

June 6, 2018, KU Card Office. It’s official! We are Golden Bears now! Well equipped with a KU student card, we make our way to the library spotting the best seats and view for the following weeks. The project: Investigating the effects of the NetzDG (yep, that´s the “Hate Speech” or “Facebook Law” everyone talked about last year) on deleting comments on Facebook. The goal: Data management and analysis of 41.6 GB collected Facebook data. The challenges: Python, Python, Python. The result: A 40-minute talk in front of academics from all disciplines at the symposium presenting our research idea, the data, and first descriptive results.
Good to be golden!

Good to be golden!

June 7-19, Rohrbach Library. Rohrbach? Rohrbach! Pennsylvania has a big cultural heritage connected to Germany. At first, we were just wondering about all the German building names and people telling us their family history reaching back to their German ancestors. But after visiting the German Cultural Heritage Center, and an excellent and informative tour by its Director Patrick Donmoyer, we knew the background of the building we were sitting in all day. Apart from the cultural side note, the library was quite normal. We were happy to spend our time there, doing our research, and making progress with our programming language skills. You wouldn’t believe how happy we were when we first managed to open a file. Okay, for you it might just be opening a file, but for us it appeared like a milestone, a breakthrough, an award-winning performance – we literally danced out the library that day. Great!
However, the cycle of science took us down several times. Then, the lovely lunches with the other scholars or the KU staff were our rocks in turbulent waters. We met inspiring people such as Prof. Keith Massie (Social Media and R expert), Prof. Lynn Kutch (German professor), and Dr. Karen Rauch (Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences). We also made a little escape to Washington DC and Philadelphia, doing some sight-seeing and catching new breath for the research. However, you do not have to leave Kutztown to do some fun stuff! We have appreciated the town’s different restaurants, shops, and leisure activities – all of them! For example, we went twice to the very charming, old-school cinema “The Strand”, we had a freshly-fried donut at the “Frying Dutchman”, we tried to stand the “little” Sunday omlette at “Letterman’s Diner” (spoiler: it was breakfast, lunch, and dinner at once), and we visited the “Taste of Kutztown”-festival (just a recommendation: stay with the beer breweries and do not try to go into wine business).
June 20, Academic Forum. The day of the symposium has come quicker than expected. However, we were well prepared and happy to share our insights with the audience. It was great to present in front of academics of various disciplines, getting valuable feedback from an outside viewpoint, and learn new things about how to do and later market a painting or about composition classes for freshmen at college.
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June 22, Kutztown Bieber Bus Terminal. It’s a wrap! We are back at the bus terminal waiting for the departure to New York. Unreal – again. Sabrina and I try to summarize our fellowship time, but it’s hard to cover all our experiences, impressions, and feelings. We return with a lot of ideas and insights, a new project presentation, a bunch of stories to tell, and many moments to remember in the future. We would like to thank everybody who made this experience possible – it’s been a blast!

So, spread the word, the program will be repeated next year. Check out the website for application deadlines.