Rutgers University Engages with Greece

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Rutgers Delegation in Greece
Wednesday, February 8th

A delegation from Rutgers attended the Pharos Summit 2022 in Greece in November, which focused on Greek and U.S. collaboration in higher education. The Summit was hosted by the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, in conjunction with the Institute of International Education (IIE), the U.S. Embassy in Athens, and the Fulbright Foundation, Greece. The group attending the Summit from Rutgers included Professor Riva Touger-Decker from the School of Health Professions (SHP) and School of Dental Medicine (SDM), Associate Professor Matthew Matsaganis from the School of Communication and Information (SC&I), and Assistant Vice President Ji-Yeung Jang from Rutgers Global. 

The Summit brought together the 30 U.S. universities and colleges who are part of the International Academic Partnership Program (IAPP)-Greece program, launched by IIE in 2019. As per the IIE website, the IAPP is a “comprehensive program that guides colleges and universities through the development of a strategic plan to increase meaningful, long-lasting academic partnerships with institutions in a particular focus country.” The IAPP-Greece delegation to Greece in November, which included over 60 university leaders and faculty, was the largest delegation in IAPP history.

Over the course of the Pharos Summit, the Rutgers delegation visited 11 public universities (of 24 total), comprised of five universities in Athens, three in Thessaloniki, and three in Crete. The group aimed to emphasize research, educational and training program opportunities at the intersection of health communication, health professions, and health sciences and explored establishing the field of health communication in Greece by working with multiple stakeholders. A secondary goal of the visit was for the Rutgers delegation to explore opportunities for new strategic and innovative programs in Greece.

Another critical component of the Rutgers delegation to Greece was an alumni event. The event, which took place on November 5, 2022, gathered a group of around 25 Rutgers alums for a memorable time. Jang notes, “We are proud to have such a vibrant alumni community in Greece. Our Greek alumni are well situated in the country and willing to open doors for Rutgers to deepen the global engagement and opportunities.”

Alumni gathering in Greece

IAPP-Greece at Rutgers

At Rutgers University, the core objective of the IAPP-Greece Initiative is to help advance health communications, research, education, and practice across health professions in both the U.S. and Greece. The initiative is a strategic partnership between the School of Health Professions and the School of Communication and Information, working together with Rutgers Global, and, so far, includes the following institutional partners: Democritus University of Thrace, Harokopio University, Hellenic Mediterranean University, International Hellenic University, and the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. 

“It is exhilarating to see the vision that my colleague and co-lead in this effort, Dr. Riva Touger-Decker, and I articulated in 2019 for our IAPP-Greece proposal come to life and grow,” said Matsaganis. “Our multiple partnerships with universities across Greece and the related initiatives reflect our commitment and that of our Greek partners to bridging the local and the global—by drawing, for example, on research from across the globe to inform the development of solutions to health-related challenges and to fighting health inequities locally—to fostering interdisciplinary and interprofessional communication, research, and education.”

A key component of the Rutgers IAPP-Greece Initiative is a summer school program offered through Rutgers Global that focuses on “Communication & Health Inequalities Across the Health Professions in the Greece & the U.S.” and takes place in Crete. The program which is offered jointly by SC&I and SHP was first held in 2022 and will be offered again at the Hellenic Mediterranean University in June 2023. Among its other activities, the Rutgers IAPP-Greece initiative has organized three research e-symposia with the participation of faculty from across Rutgers and Greek university partners. Additionally, this spring, SC&I at Rutgers and Harokopio University in Athens are co-developing a course on “Health and Communication Technology,” while faculty from both sides of the Atlantic continue to explore research collaborations, leveraging local expertise for global impact.

Current Rutgers IAPP partners in Greece welcomed the visit, offering opportunities to expand collaborations. New partners, including the University of Crete, expressed interest in creating opportunities for joint courses, research collaborations and faculty and student exchanges. “This whirlwind tour of Greece was more impactful and productive than we anticipated,” Matsaganis said, adding: “We got to reaffirm and, in some cases, even expand collaborations we established during the pandemic despite all the challenges that COVID-19 threw our way just months after IAPP-Greece was launched. In some cases, it was during this trip that we first met in person our partners from several Greek universities, like Democritus University of Thrace and the International Hellenic University in Northern Greece, and we were able to share with colleagues from other American universities what we had accomplished and how. We also benefited from the insights shared by other institutions.” Additionally, the Rutgers delegation engaged with many major stakeholders in Greece’s higher education landscape, including university rectors and deans, the leadership of the Hellenic Ministry of Education, national academic program accreditation agencies, and foundations. “This engagement has offered us a significantly better understanding of the Greek higher education system and salient new policies. Moving forward we hope to leverage this knowledge and continue to nurture these relationships,” said Matsaganis.  

Further Engagement with Greece: Next Steps

Reflecting on the visit, Ji-Yeung Jang noted that “the Greek Ministry of Education is very interested in promoting partnerships between U.S. and Greek higher education and are committed to encouraging study abroad, internship, faculty exchange, joint degree programs, collaborative online international learning (COIL), and more.”  

Greece is an attractive global partner as the country provides geographic advantages in exploring critical topics such as health inequalities, health communication, refugee and migration, geopolitics, climate change, and the Mediterranean lifestyle. In addition, Greek public universities are increasing the number of courses and programs in English. In fact, Greece became the ninth top study abroad destination from the US (Open Doors, 2022) compared to the 21st in 2015. Additionally, Rutgers has many alumni in Greece who are well positioned to support Rutgers’ global mission.  

Jang detailed the many potential opportunities for Rutgers engagement in Greece, including first-year abroad or semester abroad programs in Greece, joint academic programs such as 4+1 (Bachelors/Masters) programs and 1+1 (Masters) programs, as well as programs resulting in badges, micro-credentials, and certificates. In addition, research collaborations and symposia in health communication, health professions education and training, public health, nutrition, agriculture, food insecurity, archaeology, refugee & migration, climate change, and transportation are areas of opportunity. 

Rutgers Global is exploring ways to leverage the already existing connections and activities between Rutgers and Greece across the University to help with recruitment of international students and faculty/scholars, establishing new international partnerships and research/scholarly collaborations, and alumni engagement. Jang notes, “A meaningful presence and partnerships in Greece would help deepen the connections, strategic growth, and impact in the country and the region.” 

Jang added, “Greece offers a safe and affordable living and learning environment. It is situated at the geopolitical crossroads that offers unique educational and research opportunities in refugee and migration, climate change, health, food insecurity, business and economics, art and culture, and of course, health professions education and communication. These are well aligned with the areas of excellence at Rutgers.” 

The timing feels right now for increasing Rutgers’ engagement in Greece. Touger-Decker noted, “The potential opportunities for students across the health professions to do short-term training rotations in health care and community settings in Greece with Greek students and faculty will strengthen our students’ knowledge and understanding of health care and communication globally.” She added, “given the Greek government’s desire to expand engagement opportunities of Greek universities, my colleague and co-lead, Dr. Matsaganis and I agree with Dr. Jang; that opportunities are expansive for both our IAPP initiative regarding health communication across the health professions and for Rutgers as a whole.”

In photo, left to right: Ji-Yeung Jang, Assistant Vice President at Rutgers Global; Niki Kerameus, Greek Minister of Education and Religious Affairs; Katerina Sakellaropoulou, President of Greece; Matthew Matsaganis, Associate Professor at the School of Communication and Information (SC&I); and Professor Riva Touger-Decker from the School of Health Professions (SHP) and School of Dental Medicine (SDM)