CAS Exclusive: Austrian Fulbrighter reflects on Spring 2020 at UMN-TC
Paul Schweinzer was the Spring 2020 Fulbright Austria visiting scholar at UMN, hosted by the Institute for Global Studies, Center for Austrian Studies, and Department of Economics (CLA). He is Professor of Economics at the University of Klagenfurt and specializes in game theory, mechanism design, contract theory, and applied microeconomics.
My family and I arrived in Minneapolis on January 16. Just as we checked into our hotel a snowstorm began; we received a wonderfully friendly welcome by other visitors (and complimentary drinks!). This was an example of Minnesotans’ welcoming attitude and boundless friendliness, which was constant in all our interactions throughout our visit to the land of 11,842 lakes.
While teaching Sports Economics at the University of Minnesota I was able to interact with a motivated and engaged group of students. The students were all in the final year of their undergraduate programs and their academic experience proved valuable to the course. I was seriously impressed by the students' curiosity and willingness to deal with extremely heavy math-based machinery in order to explain technical aspects of the problems they were presented. The students and brought energy, excitement, and a want to learn to the classroom. We were able to get through roughly one third of course before we went online.
To follow social distancing protocol, the University of Minnesota campus closed on March 18. But my Economics department, along with all of the university’s instructors, continued to teach remotely through online reading groups, workshops, and seminars. Despite the circumstances, the UMN students persevered. There were no dropouts among the students in my course. Even though we lost the face-to-face interactions decreased some of the fascinating conversations we had in the classroom or in office hours, the students maintained their high productivity in the course. They even seemed to be as nervous about their exam as I would have expected them to be in a physical classroom environment. (They did spectacularly well, of course!)
My family loved their time in the Twin Cities. When things started to go virtual and my teaching moved online, we decided that staying away from airport queues was perhaps advisable and we felt as safe in our Minneapolis neighborhood as we would have in Klagenfurt. The Center for Austrian Studies (which hosted me) kept in touch with offers of help and advice. So, we agreed to stay on: the kids' school moved online, and we kept sharing my laptop among the essential work to be done from home. The kids loved Susan B. Anthony Middle School. Everything appeared to be organized with the kids and their needs in mind, and this facilitated developing joint interests and friendship. Both kids made friends instantly (and then lost them to online classes and social distancing). But both would love to come back—maybe for high school or college.
Moving to a socially distant model was challenging. Interactions with students and faculty were made difficult and less common due to the realities of teaching online. What I lost in academic interaction with the department my family and I won in local, albeit socially distant, interactions with the community. We played in wild pickleball tournaments over our fence and participated in the Zoom dryland exercises of our fantastic Aquajets swimming team. Now, we’re back in Austria and still sporting the most stylish face masks courtesy of Minneapolis designer Tessa Louise.
The fact that most of my projected sabbatical research output was lost to COVID-19 remains. Of course, I could complain about this loss, but instead I choose to focus on applauding the many people in Minneapolis who worked to keep my family and me safe, connected, and with no shortage of essential supplies. Our gratitude and best wishes to them. Thank you all!
Paul Schweinzer, Department of Economics, University of Klagenfurt