From an office in the A5 building on the Weihenstephan campus, invisible threads stretch across the university, across the country and across Europe. They form the network which Stefanie Gruber, usually known as Steffi, is a part of and which she helped to develop. The 49-year-old has worked at HSWT for twelve years and for nine of those she has been programme assistant for the "International Master of Landscape Architecture" (IMLA) in the Department of Landscape Architecture. Before that, the qualified landscape architect gained more than a decade of experience in the field. She explains that after this: "I wanted a change of perspective, I liked the idea of working with students and dealing with current topics in teaching and research".
One of Steffi Gruber’s responsibilities is advising the students on the IMLA programme and overseeing the preparation and follow-up of study projects. She meets regularly with partner universities and partners and helps to plan the semester alongside professors and teaching staff. She also provides teaching support: "I find it really exciting to share my practical knowledge with young people. For me it’s wonderful that in my career I’ve already been able to see both sides, practical experience in landscape architecture businesses as well as teaching and research."
Steffi Gruber often supports study projects on open space planning and oversees exercises relating to her favourite subject, plant usage. Plants and nature are an important feature of her free time, too. With the practised eye of a landscape architect, she grows all she can on the 2 m2 balcony of her Munich apartment: shrubs, herbs and vegetables. And when the plants are taken care of, she heads out into nature on her bike or to go walking.
Steffi creates networks, not least as part of the team responsible for the internationalisation of the department and its alumni manager. "I think it’s important to stay in touch with former students", she says. She meets many of them each year at the 'Landscape Architecture Day' that she helps organise. And she is still in contact with her own alma mater: Nürtingen-Geislingen university is one of HSWT’s partners on the IMLA. "So sometimes I’m in touch with my former professors again and occasionally I’m back on campus as well", Gruber explains.
She particularly enjoys the social aspect of her job, making and maintaining connections: "I just really enjoy working with people, whether that’s students, professors and colleagues, or those from other departments and the International Office, for example, or from outside the university. And I really value the fact that this happens on equal terms."
For Steffi Gruber, collaboration spans many countries, after all, the IMLA programme is designed for international students. At the start, she had to get used to speaking English in her work. "That was a real challenge, I had to grow into it. Thanks to the university’s language centre courses I was able to refresh my language skills. I’d like to continue using these opportunities to keep improving my English." The intercultural aspect of collaborating with international students and partners is one Steffi finds particularly fascinating. "It sometimes leads to misunderstandings, purely because of clashes between different traditions and practices. As programme assistant, you occasionally have to get involved. I see the solution as simply talking to one other."
In normal circumstances, Steffi Gruber’s job also takes her to other countries, whether relating to study projects or for the annual 'LE:NOTRE Landscape Forum' where she builds on existing connections. “The many international projects and contacts are really important to me and are a huge motivating factor”, she emphasises. One event that she particularly remembers is the 2017 Landscape Forum which was held in Weihenstephan and which she organised with her colleagues. "This major, multi-day, international conference elicited lots of contacts who have been incredibly valuable for IMLA and the university, but also for me personally. Mainly on a professional level, but also in terms of friendship."
It is hardly surprising that Steffi Gruber also finds social circles an important feature in her personal life: "Spending time with family and friends is high up on my priority list." She is also a language partner at Bellevue di Monaco, a residential and cultural centre for refugees and other interested people living in Munich. Steffi is a social creature when it comes to sport, too – outside of the pandemic, she plays volleyball in an amateur league. Developing networks is clearly not a skill that’s limited to her working life.