The Scandinavian Seminar Group (the Seminar), a non-profit international educational organization headquartered in the US with a sister organization in Denmark, was founded in 1949 by Danish-Americans, many of whom had fought in the Danish resistance movement in World War II. The Seminar has provided unique educational opportunities for Americans in the Nordic countries, and conducted seminars and projects with the World Bank, the UN, and other international and development organizations.
The Seminar has also played a key role in UArctic since its inception. In September 1996, the Seminar co-sponsored a conference on the Arctic with GRID-Arendal, a Norwegian foundation associated with the United Nations Environmental Program. In light of growing international interest in the Arctic, the Seminar sought to provide a Nordic forum for government officials, scientists and others to review policy perspectives on the region. The Seminar Board member and GRID-Arendal Chair, Leif Christoffersen, organized the conference and published its papers in an influential book “Arctic Development and Environmental Challenges”.
The success of the Seminar’s Arctic conference, and the launching of the intergovernmental Arctic Council a few weeks later, provided a catalyst in the founding of UArctic. These two conferences made clear that the opportunities and risks associated with the Arctic needed an educated population and a well-focused investment in research. No single university in the Arctic could deliver what was needed. The idea of a consortium of Arctic universities took form – UArctic.
The vision of a networking university captured the imagination of the Seminar’s Board members, particularly the Seminar’s Chair, Erling Olsen, who was Speaker of the Danish Parliament and founder of the University of Roskilde, Denmark. The mission statement of UArctic, which included the phrase “Empower the people of the Circumpolar North by providing unique educational and research opportunities,” resonated with the Seminar’s educational and international mission. As UArctic began to take shape with exceptional educational leaders such as Lars Kullerud, Outi Snellman and Mauri Ylä-Kotola, and with the willingness of so many institutions in Scandinavia, the US, Canada, and Russia to become actively involved, the Seminar’s Board felt UArctic could become a dynamic reality.
When the Arctic Council sponsored a feasibility study in 1997 and formed an Interim Council in 1998 to plan UArctic, Scandinavian Seminar took a leading role in both. The Seminar funded Olav Hesjedal, the first managing director of GRID-Arendal, to develop UArctic’s cornerstone academic program, the Bachelor of Circumpolar Studies (BCS). Hesjedal worked for over a year to oversee the design of the BCS curriculum. When UArctic was officially launched in 2001, two Seminar Board members took governance positions: the Seminar’s Chair, Erling Olsen, was elected to its Board of Governors and Rune Rydén, a leading Swedish Parliamentarian, to its Council.
Since 2002 UArctic has been a focus of Scandinavian Seminar’s efforts, with significant human and financial resources of over one million euros committed to its development. Rune Rydén served as Chair of the Nominations and Membership Committee of UArctic’s Council and wrote its new bylaws – often informally called the “Rune Rules” – which have played a key role in stabilizing the Council and facilitating the practical work of the Council meetings. The Seminar helped develop UArctic’s GoNorth program and Study Catalogue, and made contributions to the UArctic Fund. Erling Olsen was also instrumental in securing ongoing financial support from the Danish government for UArctic's operational and programmatic initiatives. The Chair of the Seminar’s US organization, William Kaufmann, served as UArctic Board Fellow and provided guidance on strategic planning and fundraising. The Scandinavian Seminar Group has considered it a great privilege to be a founding member and key supporter of UArctic. The challenges facing the Circumpolar North are enormous, and the innovative educational enterprise of UArctic has made an invaluable contribution to the millions who live there.