The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and the University of Birmingham (UoB) renewed the Birmingham-Illinois Partnership for Discovery, Engagement and Education (BRIDGE) for five more years.
This partnership is a commitment from both institutions to continue strengthening strategic collaboration, not just with each other, but with other partners around the world in a way that aligns with the goals and values set forth in Vision 2030, the global strategy for UIUC.
UIUC Chancellor Robert Jones; Adam Tickell, UoB Vice-Chancellor and Principal; and Reitumetse Mabokela, the Vice Provost for International Affairs and Global Strategies at UIUC, each signed the new agreement on May 16 during a ceremony inside the Medical Sciences Building in Urbana.
“This is a very exciting time and I think a critical juncture in our relationship, and I can’t wait to see what we will build together next,” Dr. Jones said during a May 16 meeting before the ceremony. “It’s been a great honor to be part of this and just to see first-hand what two major and important research universities can do together to not only work on complex issues but to train and advance the next generation of academics and researchers who are going to be working on the cutting edge of these challenging issues.”
UIUC and UoB established the Birmingham-Illinois Partnership for Discovery, Engagement and Education (BRIDGE) in March 2014.
This partnership has become one of the most robust strategic alliances between UIUC and its international partners since its launch.
In April 2018, the strategic partnership agreement was renewed for five more years, and it has now been renewed again for another five years.
The signing ceremony took place during a two-day visit from the University of Birmingham.
Fourteen delegates from UoB traveled to UIUC and explored campus facilities, presented current research findings via three guest lectures, and met with administrators and faculty to discuss current and potential collaboration opportunities across disciplines in the sciences, education, and business.
Emerging from those discussions was how both institutions could address certain topics that have been on the radar but not in the spotlight.
Dr. Mabokela and Robin Mason, the pro-vice-chancellor (international) at UoB, summarized in a meeting with campus leadership from both universities on May 16 that there are four areas both universities want to focus on moving forward—health sciences, emerging research and collaboration in the Global South, BRIDGE Seed funding, and finding time to identify other areas where strategic collaboration from both entities is needed such as global access to education and sustainability and climate.
Additionally, both universities want to explore these initiatives by leveraging their strengths and working through goals and projects with other global partners rather than just telling people what to do or what is best.
BRIDGE Seed Fund and Fellowships
One of the many key developments that has come from this partnership is the BRIDGE Seed Fund.
This fund started from a $500K investment and since its inception has funded 90 projects through six award cycles.
And in the 2021 BRIDGE Seed Fund review, a strong return on investment was evident.
For example, 11 projects to date led to external grants worth $3.5 million (£2.5m). Those grants came from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the British Academy, Wellcome Trust, the International Association for Volunteer effort (IAVE), the International Forum for Volunteering in Development, and the National Environment Research council to name a few.
Additionally, two-thirds of the 41 respondents reported that BRIDGE funded projects have resulted in publications; 27 of the 41 respondents’ principal investigators are still collaborating; and 15 reported that initial funding has led to new projects.
This partnership has also produced the distinctive BRIDGE Fellowship Program, and this year a new BRIDGE Water Sciences Fellow has been hired.
The water science fellowship was established because of the recent breakthroughs and initial collaborations between UoB and Illinois concerning the interface between water sciences and emerging pollutants.
This provides a strong basis to seek internationally outstanding talent with interdisciplinary interests in particle transport of novel contaminants in freshwater systems.
This new Fellow will leverage resources and existing projects from both institutions and will engage and become aware of the joint efforts and stimulate further collaboration across the two institutions and beyond.
In doing so, the Water Sciences Fellow will BRIDGE the gaps between interdisciplinary approaches to a common goal.
These potential contributions would not only bring together the research community working in this area across our institutions but would also yield a well-rounded professional in Water Science.
This Fellowship adopts the model of the five-year Birmingham Fellowships and will include a two-year period at UIUC.
The Fellow has been hired and will arrive in Illinois in June 2023.
The BRIDGE network engages in a diverse and interdisciplinary array of research activities. The stories below highlight recent activities from BRIDGE seed fund recipients.