Vertically Integrated Projects (VIPs) meeting at Riga Technical University, Latvia
VIPs were developed by Georgia Tech University in the US and are based on the principle of students from any year of study and any discipline working together on long-running research projects supported by academics. Georgia Tech has fostered a global consortium and the University of Bath is the only English university to become a member, alongside two Scottish universities (Strathclyde and St Andrews). In March 2023, Strathclyde hosted the first VIP Europe and Africa Hub meeting and it was here I met the leads/coordinators of other VIP schemes. After this, Brigita Dejus from RTU in Latvia organised a follow-up event, the 1st International Student and Coordinator Assembly on 5-7th October 2023. This meeting involved bringing together VIP coordinators and students from various international institutions. Attendees included representatives from the US, Sweden, Ireland, Latvia, and the UK of course.
Welcome to Riga, Latvia!
I arrived on a Tuesday afternoon in Riga and stayed in the historic Old Town of Riga. Whilst it felt like UK weather with the rain, it didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the great sights and architecture of Riga. Did you know, the entire historical centre of Riga is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Also, Riga TV Tower is the third tallest building in Europe – and in 1510 it is reputed that Riga erected the world’s first Christmas tree.
Down to business
The Assembly officially started on Thursday morning (5th Oct), with friendly introductions and a very warm welcome from our hosts. As well as the international coordinator members, we also brought some of our students with us, including three students from the Bath Biodevices project. After the introductions, all the students were whisked away for the next day and a half to work on a project proposal. This involved putting students into international teams to work on a project proposal to address one of the UN sustainability goals.
For us coordinators, we were able to share experiences and ideas around how we manage VIPs in our own institutions and also had a good planning meeting on how we might seek funding opportunities. We were keen to explore how we might foster some international collaborative projects and RTU shared their knowledge of EU funding opportunities with us.
Day 2, part 1 – showcasing RTU VIP projects
On Friday we were treated to a tour of some RTU laboratories that supported their own VIP projects. This included approaches to purifying water with the aid of plant filtration, developing IT systems for managing rail networks, building a space rocket (!) and even what I can only describe as 3-D concrete printers that can design a range of structural products, some of which they have even turned into seating. My lasting impression of the labs was the great variety of real and active research being undertaken, which the students were able to actively contribute to through their VIP projects.
Day 2, part 2 – Student pitch competition
The finale of the Assembly was a student competition to showcase proof of concept proposals for their projects. The international student teams had been working on a specific project during the Assembly and made a pitch presentation to a panel, which included a local entrepreneur and was presented by a local news and media presenter. Such is the importance RTU attaches to the value of VIPs, their Rector, Tālis Juhna attended the Assembly and issued awards at the end.
We were very well looked after by our host Brigita and all her RTU colleagues and were treated to a couple of local musical interludes, ending in a traditional Latvian song and dance (yes, it does look like a conga line). On the last evening, some of the students arranged to meet up and we coordinators met up for a little drink too. To top the Assembly off, RTU arranged for a sightseeing day on Saturday but sadly, I had booked my flight so I wasn’t able to make the most of the fun, but I still came away with great memories, new friends and a great new insight into the power of VIPs at another institution.
After meeting some consortium members at Strathclyde earlier this year, it was a great privilege to visit Riga and see other VIP projects in action. I am pleased we are now building up a really nice community of VIP friends and I look forward to new opportunities for collaborative projects. I’m pleased to say we had our first follow-up network meeting recently so here’s looking forward to what future networking and the growth of VIPs will bring. Not to mention, more musical interludes…
Written by Dr Paul Chin, Centre for Learning and Teaching