A Conversation With Dr. Gundolf Graml

Image sourced from: https://www.ursinus.edu/live/news/8020-gundolf-graml-named-ursinus-provost-and-vice

Article by Sidney Belleroche <sibelleroche@ursinus.edu>

On February 1, 2024, Dr. Gundolf Graml will begin as Ursinus College’s new Dean of Faculty and Vice President of Academic Affairs. Dr. Graml is a German Studies professor and Associate Vice President for Curriculum and Strategic Initiatives at Agnes Scott College in Georgia.

Grambl, whose career in higher education spans nearly twenty years, will head the QUEST core curriculum. Dr. Grambl discussed why he chose Ursinus, the importance of a liberal arts education, and his love for the outdoors in a sit-down conversation.

SB: What drew you to Ursinus College? 

GG: Well, Ursinus has a great reputation in the higher education landscape as a school that has done lots of innovative things for liberal arts learning for many years and is once again looking at how to build on further. The QUEST curriculum is working to create partnerships, ensuring that the academic and entire student experience is relevant for the 21st century. I have been very impressed by President Hannigan’s plans, the entire cabinet, and their ideas by speaking with the faculty. When I was here, hearing from students and their experiences together made it a very, very attractive idea to join. I’m excited about being here. 

SB: Agnes Scott College has a similar program to Ursinus’s QUEST curriculum, colloquially called SUMMIT. You were the associate vice president for curriculum and strategic initiatives, and during your tenure, Agnes Scott was named US News’s most innovative liberal arts college for six consecutive years. Can you explain what made the SUMMIT program successful?

GG: Yeah. And you know, I always want to make sure that credit for this goes to many people I had the great fortune and privilege of working with: teams of faculty, staff, and students. What made it successful was enthusiasm around a few areas that enabled students to have hands-on learning experiences and the classrooms open to the broader world. One of them was our first-year global learning program that connects students with the outside world. Another one was around leadership development, where students get a sense of what it means to be in leadership roles while they are still at the college and have an opportunity to connect their academic learning with leadership experiences. Those were some of the areas we focused on. The faculty came up with many ideas for working with students. The students continued to share what they were interested in and would like to do, which was a fruitful collaboration. 

SB: Sticking with Agnes Scott College, you were also a professor of German Studies and have published several articles about Germany and Austria, particularly about travel history. How did you get into German studies? Is it part of your heritage? 

GG: I grew up in Austria, a German-speaking country, and trained as a historian, a cultural historian, and a literary studies scholar. Travel is this fascinating element where you also learn in a multidimensional way…You take your readings and books; there’s a much more three-dimensional experience when you go out there. And what does that do to you when you engage with the world, and how has that shaped people’s narratives about themselves, their identity, and their national identity? Visiting other countries shapes national stories. That’s how I got into this research field, and that’s why some of my publications tried to bring out the history and the cultural impact of that. 

SB: You are currently an executive board member for the Collegium for African American Research (CAAR), which is European-based and has about 250 scholars across 20 countries. Founded nearly 30 years ago, it attempts to stimulate African-American studies research in Europe. Please explain a little about that, and would you be interested in working with the African American and Africana Studies Department? 

GG: I would be very interested in learning about and connecting with their work. My work with CAAR goes back to when the organization was founded when scholarship on historical European-American relationships was a dominant white narrative where European scholars operated primarily in that paradigm in countries like Germany or Austria. These countries didn’t have a connection to colonies, and it was the starting point where people reexamined that and said, ‘Oh, no, wait, there is a connection,’ and we need to do much more intentional work to highlight that. When I came to Agnes Scott College as a German studies professor, I developed and offered a course called Afro-German History and Culture because I realized that this was an essential element of the field that I was working in for a college in this [southern] region of the United States, where the colonialist history, the history of enslavement was still very much present. That was a course I’ve taught repeatedly and found created connections to the Africana studies program and then to the CAAR research group. 

SB: You stated in the Ursinus press release that the values and outcomes of a liberal arts education were more important than ever. Would you care to explain more about what you mean by the importance of a liberal arts education today? 

GG: How much time do we have? This is a vast field, but at the core of it, our world is increasingly shaped by technology, artificial intelligence, and many business enterprises that create new ways of communication. That allows us to do things very quickly, and we need to check ourselves to think about the broader picture and the implications that this has on people and the environment. We must think about the means for our ethical paths when making certain decisions. A liberal arts education provides all students with historical context for their knowledge and the ability to communicate clearly and think critically. This is what I mean by more than ever because wrong decisions now can have broader implications. We need that critical perspective and the ethical awareness that students develop at a [liberal arts] college to be the citizens who ensure that all people benefit from these accomplishments and that we don’t get divided too much as a society. 

SB: What are some of your interests?

GG: I love hiking and biking. Those are two of my hobbies that I love. I look forward to exploring the Perkiomen Trail here; I’ve heard much about it but have yet to see it. I like the outdoors generally. I also love to read a good book, which I enjoy very much. 

SB: What would you say to the student body about yourself and what you plan on doing here? 

GG: I want to let the students know you are in the right place to get a fantastic education that prepares you for lifelong success. You are here to get a comprehensive academic education that includes looking out for your well-being, the whole person, and the feeling that this is your place. I want to work for that [so] every student here feels like this is their place. To think, ‘I’m getting the support that I need. I can grow here.’