The Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 19, 2001
March 19, 2001
VOL. 30, NO. 26


Our Man In Europe Checks In

By Greg Rienzi
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Hung on the wall of a modest-sized office in Germany's capital city are two clocks, one set to Berlin time, the other to Baltimore time, and a Johns Hopkins University banner, the school's seal prominently in its center.

For Stephen Mc-Clain, these items serve as constant reminders of why he now resides 4,000 miles from home.

McClain is a vice provost and director of the university's new European Office in Berlin, whose purpose is to promote and extend Hopkins' presence and visibility in the Old World and to seek out new opportunities there for all JHU divisions.

Stephen McClain in his Berlin office

He has spent the better part of the past 14 months crisscrossing the continent--a period he calls "getting a lay of the land"--meeting with alumni, elected officials, heads of business and those in academia to make them aware of the office's existence and to determine areas of mutual interest. To date, McClain has visited eight countries and 17 cities, meeting formally with approximately 250 individuals.

Part ambassador and part matchmaker, McClain says he is interested in forging relationships that can benefit both Hopkins and the other party, whether it's through joint participation in a one-day conference, collaborating on a long-term research project or anything in between.

"A lot of what I do is to try to be an effective middle man," McClain said during a recent visit to Baltimore. "Once I've identified an interest on either side of the Atlantic, what I do is try to match that with an interest on the other side. Then I try to get the right people talking with each other."

Officially opened in January 2000, the European Office serves to promote, support and explore academic programs on behalf of Hopkins' schools, institutes and centers; identify potential funding sources for programs; and connect with alumni. McClain qualifies the first year as a success on many fronts.

On connecting with Hopkins alumni, McClain says he has met individually or in groups with approximately 10 percent of the 3,000 currently living and working in Europe, nearly half of whom are graduates of SAIS or its Bologna Center. A well-positioned group, the European alumni serve as industry leaders, political ministers, ambassadors, members of parliament and media affiliates. He says they have been his "No. 1 resource" for information and leads.

"They have been very generous and forthcoming about suggesting other people that I talk to," McClain said. "It's had a ripple effect, like a stone tossed into a pond."

McClain, in fact, arrived in Berlin with a long list of contacts garnered from deans, faculty, administration, the Office of Alumni Relations and his own travels. No stranger to Germany, for the past 11 years McClain has traveled to Berlin on a regular basis to maintain the relations Hopkins had established, under then university president Steven Muller, with Humboldt University and to develop further Hopkins relationships with Berlin's other two universities, the Free University and the Technical University.

McClain splits his time 60-40 between Berlin and other parts of Europe. The majority of meetings are scheduled well in advance, but he says he's been pleasantly surprised by the 40 or so people who have stopped by his office unannounced.

"That is quite a bit for what one would call drop-in traffic. That's certainly been one of the fun parts of the job," McClain said. "It's been interesting the number of people, and most of them Hopkins alumni, who have called up out of the blue and said they now live in Berlin or were passing through and somehow had heard about the office."

McClain says that in recent months he has begun to see the fruits of his labor.

In April and November of last year he visited the University of Munich's Institute for Medical Informatics, Biometrics and Epidemiology to talk with an alumna on the school's faculty. During the meeting, the alumna and her colleagues identified an area in health policy and health management where they would like to collaborate with Hopkins. He passed on the information to a professor in the School of Public Health who reciprocated an interest. The end result is a meeting in Baltimore this month between representatives of the two universities to discuss the possibility of a joint, targeted course in health policy and health management that would probably be given in Germany.

McClain comes to each meeting armed with a European Office brochure and his 30 years of experience at Hopkins. For this political scientist, an in-depth knowledge of the university's structure and people comes in very handy.

"I represent the whole university, so you want to talk about music, I'll talk about music. You want to talk about biomedical engineering, I'll talk about biomedical engineering," McClain said. "The overwhelming part of my job is outside of my own field. I don't pretend to know opera or medical genetics, but I know either who does opera or medical genetics, or XYZ, at Hopkins, or, if I don't, I know whom to contact in the particular dean's office or at the department level."

On finding potential funding sources, McClain said he sees promise in the city of Brussels and has planned several returns there. Brussels is the location of the European Commission, which has more than 20 departments, or directorate generals. Two directorate generals are of particular importance to Hopkins--Research and Education. Moreover, the directorate generals employ several Hopkins alumni, with whom McClain has met to ascertain "hot topics" of research that Hopkins might have in common with European institutions.

"What I am trying to do by spending time in Brussels, and as I travel around to other universities, is not only to see how we can leverage some European Commission money for some things that would be of interest in the research area," McClain said, "but also try to identify, not only on my own, but talking with colleagues here, where there might be possibilities of good institutional collaborators in Europe if we were to go after some EC money."

The European Office in Berlin is now in phase two of its operations, McClain said. The chief objective of 2001, he said, is to shift emphasis from "getting to know you" meetings toward putting specific programs and projects into place. This means revisiting cities where there was a "defined and serious interest" in developing Hopkins programs.

"My efforts now are to go back to some of these people and institutions and develop relationships in more depth," McClain said.

He also has more ground to cover.

McClain plans to log even more frequent flier miles in the current calendar year with trips scheduled to areas he has yet to visit, including Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and another five or six principal cities in Western Europe.

In his Berlin office, on the same wall that holds the Johns Hopkins banner and two clocks, McClain has put up a large map of Europe. Placed on the map are tacks designating all the places he has been so far. McClain is looking forward to placing some more.

For more information on the European Office in Berlin, visit To contact the office, e-mail Christina Gehlsen at