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A Report on ASciNA: Full Throttle Ahead

by Wolfgang Winkelmayer

It is with great pleasure that I report on the latest activities of the Austrian Scientists and Scholars in North America - ASciNA.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} Who We Are
ASciNA is a fun and fast growing organization with an ambitious agenda. Currently, our database contains more than 500 individuals (300 of which have already signed up on our website, http://www.ascina.at). By the end of 2004, we expect to have more than 600 members in our ASciNA Community. ASciNA was founded in its current format in June of 2002 when the Office of Science and Technology convened a conference of Austrian scientists and scholars at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Our mission statement and charter were created at this conference and approved by a general vote. Florian Brody (Pacific North Chapter) was elected ASciNA's first president. Shortly thereafter, the organization was incorporated as "Verein" (not-for-profit) in accordance with Austrian law.

The OST and ASciNA
The OST and ASciNA communicate and collaborate regularly, with both entities mutually benefiting from this cooperation.

The OST was established and is run by Philipp Steger, the Science Attaché at the Austrian Embassy. Part of the mission of the OST is to develop and maintain a network of Austrian scientists and scholars throughout North America. The OST started that activity in 2001 and has by now identified about 650 Austrian scientists in the U.S. and in Canada, in many cases with the help of ASciNA. About 80 of these scientists have in the meantime returned to Austria or some other European country.

Soon, it became evident that there were also needs and interests that could not be provided by an official Austrian government institution such as the OST. Thus, the OST encouraged several of the scientists to get together and found an independent association, i.e. ASciNA. So far, ASciNA has shown a great capacity to provide useful services to Austrian scientists and scholars in the U.S. and in Canada.

ASciNA Objectives
ASciNA is a community of scholars and scientists living in North America for work or study who are either of Austrian origin or have other personal or professional ties to Austria and its culture. Our principal objective is to support and promote Austrian scholars and scientists in North America and to facilitate interaction and collaboration with international research institutions. Additionally, we are particularly interested in identifying and assisting those scholars and scientists who are going through one of two phases: 1.) those who are considering or have decided on an extended stay in North America and 2.) those who are considering or have decided on relocating to Austria.

For both groups, we are able to provide important resources. For those considering a move to North America, ASciNA can connect individuals with scholars or scientists in their respective field. This can enable them to make a more informed decision on the location and scope of their stay overseas. Once they make the transition to the New World, ASciNA can provide them with important information and assistance on anything from how to obtain a driver's license to where to look for affordable housing. Local ASciNA chapters provide an existing social network that can offer friendly and knowledgeable support during this crucial and vulnerable time of transition.

For those considering a move from North America back to Austria, our alumni are a great resource. They can provide important insights, both professional and personal, on decisions regarding whether or not to return to Austria.

While these services have successfully been provided informally in the past, ASciNA will soon formally roll out a "buddy system" (ASciNA Buddy) where we hope to offer a designated personal mentor (where geographically available) for each individual coming to live in the U.S. or Canada (The launch of this service will be communicated via our website).

December 2003 Meeting
In December 2003, the ASciNA Board gathered for a two-day meeting organized by the ASciNA Greater Boston Chapter (Boston, Massachusetts). The meeting was made possible by a generous travel grant from the OST. All chapters were represented by their chairperson (one via a conference call) which provided a great opportunity to reflect on the first 18 months of ASciNA. The meeting also provided an opportunity to discuss and shape the future direction and strategy of the organization.

Looking back over the first two years of independent existence, it is evident that much had been accomplished:

- the organization had been formally incorporated
- a nice website had been created (http://www.ascina.at)
- most local chapters were quite active in holding regular meetings and organizing lectures and social events.

However, all board members shared the opinion that "independence" had been a more difficult effort than had been anticipated. Clearly, after an initial period of logistic and financial support from the OST, the decision to make ASciNA a self-governing and self-promoting entity also meant that the organization had to be run and developed by dedicated individuals with limited resources and full schedules.

Even with this acknowledgment, everyone was very enthusiastic about their involvement and the two days of face-to-face meetings provided great bonding time for the attendees.

By the end of the meeting, it was clear that a more effective "branding" of the organization, continuous and effective efforts to identify, attract and enlist interested individuals as members, good public relations and communications, as well as accrual of sponsorship funds were essential to make ASciNA a successful organization.

from left: Heinisch, Voller, Lepperdinger, Winkelmayer

ASciNA's Future Plans and Financing
While ASciNA is a not-for-profit organization, good strategic and financial planning and governance is important. Having recognized this, we are currently developing a business plan that will force us to put all our thoughts and idea(l)s into a formal, written structure. Financing of our activities is certainly a crucial factor, and we intend to cover our expenses through two mechanisms: membership fees and unrestricted grants/sponsorships.

When thinking about membership fees, it was important for us to establish a system that would be welcoming and attractive to all interested in our affairs. To do so, we have formulated a two-tier system which will be rolled out this spring. One tier, ASciNA Community, will continue to be free and resemble the current state and services of our organization, inclusive of free access to most information and services on our website. The second tier, ASciNA Academy, will be open for all members in the Community for a nominal membership fee. Additional special services will be restricted to ASciNA Academy members, such as the ASciNA Buddy mentor service, a special press partnership that will promote public awareness of the scientific publications and related accomplishments of ASciNA Academy members, listing and dissemination of job requests, annual scientific awards, etc. We expect that both a vibrant ASciNA Community and a respected and prestigious ASciNA Academy will attract grants from governmental agencies and corporate sponsors and provide us with the resources to successfully serve our members and to sustain our organization.

ASciNA Membership: Our Foundation
Lastly, we are eager to build the ASciNA network. We are only as good as our membership; therefore, it is of paramount importance that everyone who is interested in the affairs of ASciNA join the Community by signing up as a user on our website. If your personal information (e.g., name, email, etc.) is in the OST database and you have not signed up on http://www.ascina.at, then you are not yet a member of the ASciNA Community and will not receive our communications. Hence, since you are likely currently online, we invite you to visit http://www.ascina.at and register as a user. This takes less than a minute and does not cost a dime.

Certainly, a major of the perk of ASciNA membership is the website -- established with enormous personal and unpaid efforts. It is under continuous expansion and improvement. Apart from providing important content and contact information about ASciNA and its chapters, it hosts a popular news section, a communication forum, conference announcements and job postings. Based on numerous requests, we are also developing a section for Austrian scholars and scientists seeking study or work opportunities. Soon, a calendar function will also be available so that any activity in the U.S. or Canada that may be of interest to the ASciNA Community can be listed.

As it is our goal to grow the Community to 600 individuals by the end of 2004, we hope you will join soon. Only then can we truly feel the momentum: ASciNA, full throttle ahead.

Note: The ASciNA Board is currently comprised of: Florian Brody (Pacific North), Stefan Deusch (Pacific South), Peter Ertl (Canada), Helmut Hager (Midwest), Reinhard Hainisch (Pennsylvania), Günter Lepperdinger (Austria; ASciNA Vice President), Boris Mizaikoff (Southeast), Eva Schernhammer (Special Envoy for Womens' Affairs in Science), Dorothea Strozyk (Greater New York), Bernhard Voller (Greater Washington, D.C.), Wolfgang C. Winkelmayer (Greater Boston; ASciNA President), and Hubert Zajicek (Southwest).{/access}

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