Do you ever wonder what it is like to be at one of EELISA’s prestigious institutions? How are the campuses, the people, and the environment behind each of the pieces that make up the map? What is the impact of such an ambitious Alliance on each member institution?
Now you can find out! Welcome to the third episode of #WeAreEELISA, a campaign that aims to give visibility to the EELISA microcosm through interviews with key people from each organization and video tours recorded by students from each University.
Join us on this ocasion to discover École des Ponts from the perspective of its Director for International Relations and Corporate Partnerships, Marie-Christine Bert.
Interviewee’s name: Marie-Christine Bert
University: École des Ponts ParisTech
Profession: Director for International Relations and Corporate Partnerships at École des Ponts ParisTech
Role within EELISA: Member of the Executive Board
Q. Can you briefly introduce École des Ponts ParisTech to us?
A. École des Ponts ParisTech is a research-intensive higher education institution. It dates back to the Age of Enlightenment and has always been at the forefront of the challenges of its time: historically in civil engineering and infrastructure, and today in the fields of ecological and digital transition. Its highly reputed engineering program leads to leadership positions in various industries (construction, energy, environment, transportation, finance), public service, and research. An excellent education would not be possible without a close link to research, and École des Ponts ParisTech has 12 laboratories in exact sciences and social sciences, all focused on sustainable development issues. In total, the community of Les Ponts consists of 2,000 master’s and PhD students, 500 researchers and professors, around a hundred partner companies, and almost 22,000 active alumni worldwide.
Q. What is your personal connection to EELISA?
A. My connection to EELISA goes back to its « prehistoric days » when EELISA was a projection of engineering based on the French engineering education model. Since then, what I find extremely interesting is that the European Alliance of Engineering encompasses different realities as new colleagues and members join the alliance. The closest ties are with UPM, particularly la E.T.S.I. de Caminos, Canales y Puertos, with whom École des Ponts ParisTech signed its very first double degree agreement with a foreign university. We have developed a Master’s program in public management and, most recently, the Executive Master Digital Twins for Cities and Infrastructures, which includes BME ITU and UPB, already academic partners. I would say that EELISA has allowed me to work differently with them and has led to my joyful discovery of FAU, SNS, SSSA, and more recently, ZHAW, which extended a magnificent welcome to the Executive Board in May.
Q. “Together is better than alone”. In your opinion, why should universities work together in an alliance like EELISA?
A. In the face of the climate emergency and a context where European peace and stability are fragile, the establishment of a European university rooted in engineering and directing all its actions towards the Sustainable Development Goals gives me hope: hope of giving the next generations a structured channel for expression and action towards a fairer and more sustainable world, hope of providing member institutions with an effective cooperation platform that opens minds and engages stakeholders such as businesses, NGOs, and civil society.
An alliance that works on engineering, in a more technological world where critical thinking is crucial, is a good way to confront different perspectives and arm ourselves against misinformation, distrust towards science, and the challenges of transition. We experience this every day in EELISA; behind the term “engineer,” there is a plurality of realities. Working on the profile of the European engineer helps us understand the foundations of each reality and build together learning experiences and degrees that address the new needs of society.
Lastly, I find it very interesting to approach extra-European relations (Asia, Africa, Latin America) from the perspective of EELISA, whether it be with universities or companies. It is not about reducing our international relations to the prism of EELISA; that would not make sense. Instead, it is about providing evidence, through a structured project, that Europe is the right scale to have a significant impact and influence in our international cooperations.
Q. What does EELISA mean to your University? And how does EELISA enrich your university’s community?
A. The slogan of École des Ponts ParisTech is “Building the Worlds of Tomorrow.” Obvioulsly, the worlds of tomorrow require concerted and coordinated action, whether it is working together on new energy solutions, resource efficiency, or new models of green financing for economies: being able to project our mission at the European level, with partners who share these concerns and challenges, in the spirit of the common good, is a fantastic opportunity; similarly, scaling the fundamental components of our education and research to the European level – interdisciplinary collaboration, scientific excellence, aiming for societal and environmental impact, in service of industrial sovereignty and support for public policies. EELISA stimulates reflections, provokes, creates spaces for dialogue, and more than anything else, plays the role of an experimental laboratory to create and fund new educational formats and establish new connections among researchers, teachers, staff, and students. It is always a challenge to marry an institutional project with bottom-up dynamics. It also challenges our internal modes of operation and develops intercultural skills through the variety of actions offered in EELISA.
Keeping the students at the center of the project is an important compass for me: opening new opportunities for students, whether it be through mobility, participation in extracurricular activities, or engagement in communities; encouraging their participation in project governance should remain the project’s purpose. Although the numerous opportunities for intra-EELISA connections facilitate networking among staff, researchers, and teachers, the ultimate goal, in my opinion, remains the personal and professional development of the students.
Another contribution is the ability to win other projects and funding together. It is extremely rewarding for the teams. The digital twins project, for example, creates an interesting dynamic in teaching, research, and startups.
Q. Finally, what would you wish for the future development of EELISA?
A. On a practical level, I believe that Phase II will be calmer and more poised than Phase I, where we were all in a mode of discovery and survival. The way we approach this new period leaves me confident in achieving our common goals: the joint EELISA programs, engagement of external stakeholders, work on the research dimension, particularly through Joint PhD programs, and the establishment of an observatory of transitions, a topic that greatly interests École des Ponts ParisTech. In summary, I would say that the day employers endorse EELISA credentials and diplomas, and when innovations from EELISA spinoffs bring disruptive solutions to preserve our planet without depleting it, the bet will be won!
More broadly, I aspire to a European alliance that contributes to maintaining the autonomy of thought and action of each of its members while building together a force in teaching and research capable of influencing public debates and being a transformative force for businesses and society.