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Delegation of 5 Minnesotans and 3 Iceland hosts in jackets standing on outdoor steps. (In 4 rows, front to back, L-R) Frank Cerra, Jim Thorp, Bob Bruininks, Deanne Silvera, Connie Delaney, John Finnegan; Remi Douah, Susan Hagstrum, Kathleen Sellew, Diana Harvey, Gunnar Karlsson; Thorunn Bjarnadottir, Peter Hudleston, Jim Parente; Maddy Arnar, Jan Finnegan, Kathie Cerra, Orn Arnar

The U of M delegation took a walking tour of the historic port village of Eyrarbakki with U of Iceland faculty guides.

Cool country, warm ties

U delegation celebrates 25 years of collaboration with the University of Iceland

By Jim Thorp

July 11, 2007

A University of Minnesota delegation visited Iceland in May 2007 to celebrate 25 years of collaboration with the country's premier higher education institution, the University of Iceland, and to explore new opportunities for collaboration.

From the glittering nightlife of Reykjavik to the windswept beauty of the president's residence at Bessastaðir, from medieval farmsteads made famous in sagas to massive geothermal and hydroelectric energy reserves to power most of the nation, Iceland defies expectations and redefines cool.

Public health, clinical sciences, renewable energy, and the environment are fields central to the future of both universities and to both nations.

U president Robert Bruininks, senior vice president for the Academic Health Center Frank Cerra, School of Public Health dean John Finnegan, and School of Nursing dean Connie Delaney--who also holds a faculty appointment at the University of Iceland--led the Minnesota delegation.

Six signing partners cross arms and join hands.
A partnership renewed. Left to right: Stefán B. Sigurdsson, dean, UI Faculty of Medicine; Connie Delaney, dean, UM School of Nursing; President Bruininks, president, UM; Kristín IngÓlfsdÓttir, rector, UI; Erla Kolbrún SvavarsdÓttir, dean, UI Faculty of Nursing; John Finnegan, dean, UM School of Public Health.

They met with University of Iceland rector Kristín IngÓlfsdÓttir and other officials to renew and expand the existing agreement, particularly in the area of health sciences. See photo, right.

Common ground

The cooperative agreement with the University of Minnesota in 1982 was the first of its kind for the University of Iceland. A successful student exchange program has developed, primarily in the liberal arts and sciences. The relationship has resulted in scores of students, alumni, and scholars with close ties to both institutions.

In meetings over several days, the partners uncovered significant common ground in the two institutions' visions for the future.

"Both universities have undertaken strategic and transformative change in recent years," says Bruininks. "The University of Iceland has modeled its approach to strategic planning in part on what we've done. From the U's perspective, the University of Iceland's five-year contract with the national government to provide set levels of funding to achieve specific results is particularly intriguing."

Members of the U delegation also met with Icelandic president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, U.S. ambassador Carol van Voorst, and executive director of the Fulbright Commission in Iceland Lára JÓnsdÓttir to discuss additional opportunities to foster collaboration, exchange, and cross-cultural understanding.

'A good day'

The University of Minnesota took the opportunity to honor one of its own, granting Icelandic prime minister and U economics alumnus Geir H. Haarde, M.A. '77, its highest academic honor. Haarde became a member of the Icelandic parliament in 1987 and was elected prime minister in June 2006.

Robert Bruininks, Geir Haarde wearing a doctoral hood, and Jim Parente standing beneath blue, white, and red flags.
Iceland's prime minister, Geir Haarde (center), received the honorary doctor of laws degree in a ceremony May 24. He was hooded by President Bruininks, left, and College of Liberal Arts associate dean Jim Parente. Photo by Kathleen Sellew.

Bruininks and Jim Parente, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Twin Cities, presented Haarde with an honorary doctor of laws degree for his distinguished record of leadership and public service. Haarde is one of several U economics alumni holding prominent national positions worldwide.

The ceremony took place May 24, the same afternoon that Iceland's new government was announced, with Haarde continuing as prime minister.

"It's been a good day," Haarde said.

The honorary degree is the highest award conferred by the University of Minnesota. Slightly more than 200 honorary degrees have been awarded since the University was founded in 1851. Past recipients have included archibishop Desmond Tutu, former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and architect Frank Gehry.

FURTHER READING When the land of fire and ice meets the land of 10,000 lakes (April 30, 2005) From international student to world leader (Dec. 1, 2006) U delegation to Norway advances research teamwork on renewable energy and food safety (June 14, 2006) Putting the pieces together: Bruininks reflects on whirlwind trip to China (Nov. 25, 2005)