WKU partners with Icelandic university


In the university’s first live-streamed international conference, WKU signed a cooperative partnership with the University of Akureyri in Iceland. 

President Gary Ransdell, assistant professors Jason Polk and Leslie North and Scholar in Residence Bernie Strenecky represented WKU in a ceremony roughly 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, as counterparts on the Hill joined via teleconference from the Augenstein Alumni Center. 

The goal was to formally acknowledge a research partnership that had been cultivating since 2014. 

“Things that are international are part of us, in our DNA, in our fabric,” Strenecky said. “When you study at our institution, you’re an internationalist.”

Back in Bowling Green, participants included Orn Gudmundsson Sr., the Honorary Consul from Iceland to the central U.S., his son Orn Gudmundsson Jr., Director of Sponsored Programs Nancy Mager, Ogden College of Science and Engineering Dean Cheryl Stevens and Geology and Geography Department Head David Keeling. 

Both sites held to the theme of internationalism, as Icelandic and American residents spoke at both locations. 

Ransdell said the cooperative brings communities together rather than stopping at university borders.

“And the real answer [we’re partnering] is that Iceland gets it,” Ransdell said. 

To emphasize this partnership, junior Katie Adams completed a painting to be presented to several of Iceland’s political officials as a sign of unity between the Hill and UNAK. 

The painting featured two horses – one as the traditional Icelandic horse that flipped to reveal a second horse, a thoroughbred and a jockey.

Adams participated in the initial voyage to Iceland with Toppers at Sea, a two-week study abroad initiative during summer 2014 that took a team of nearly 60 WKU members to observe climate change and its effects on Northern European nations. 

The country’s environmental challenges didn’t affect the beauty of the country, according to participants like Stephen Farley, a project coordinator for study abroad and global learning. 

“Iceland has got to be on your top five of places to visit,” he said. “It’s so beautiful.”

Gudmundsson Sr. said he left Iceland when he was three years old, relating the similarities of his new home – Louisville – to the former. 

“Their similarities are born out of a type of frontier culture,” Gudmundsson said.

As of 2014, only 1,703 students are enrolled at UNAK’s campus, with more than four-fifths of the student population being female. The campus population has steadily increased since 2006, according to their website. 

Keeling praised Iceland’s multilevel value. 

“It is a very, very fascinating place geographically, geopolitically and environmentally,” he said. “This project will give us a tremendous opportunity. If you haven’t been to Iceland you’ve got to go. It’s got to be on your top 10 places to go.”