Prof. Dr. Harald Riegel starts as Aalen University’s new PresidentThe physicist has many years of experience in business, research and universities
Change at the top of Aalen University: On January 1, 2022, Prof. Dr. Harald Riegel took office as the new President. The physicist succeeded in the application process for the highest management position at the university and was elected by a large majority of the Senate and University Council last April. Before that, Riegel, who has been teaching at Aalen University since 2009, was Vice-President for teaching, communication and international relations for seven years. "I'm really looking forward to leading the fortunes of this successful university," says Riegel. He succeeds Prof. Dr. Gerhard Schneider, who, after two terms as President, resigned as planned at the end of 2021.
Prof. Dr. Harald Riegel still remembers when the first space shuttles were launched into space at the end of the 1970s very well, and when he sat spellbound in front of the television as a teenager. He also remembers how much these impressive images fueled his interest in physical connections. It was soon clear to him that he would study physics after graduating from high school. Today, around 40 years later, he not only looks back on a successful career in his industry and his appointment as a physics professor at Aalen University, but is now also the new President of Aalen University. “I am really looking forward to this exciting task. Managing Aalen University is a challenge that spurs me on,” says the 56-year-old.
In his new position as university President, he is fascinated by the many opportunities to create the framework for good teaching, innovative research and its transfer. “Even as a professor, the creative freedom at a university is phenomenal. Here you can make a difference, develop freely, and grow as a person,” says Riegel and adds with great enthusiasm: “As President, the opportunities for development are now even greater.” It is a great gift to be able to take over such a well-cultivated field. "We are a very strong university," emphasizes Riegel.
One of the main goals of his administration is to further develop Aalen University’s strengths. The new President is sure that only what improves stays good. Here, he relies on the further development of the strong alliance on the municipal and regional levels, as well as with the companies in the region. It is important, for example, to develop other attractive programs in close cooperation with industry. “We have to constantly adapt our offers for the companies in the region, which depend on highly trained employees, and for the regional job market," says the native Franconian.
What Aalen University has to offer doesn't begin with the first study semester, but much earlier: with the explorhino experiments museum and the Pupils´ Research Center, children and teenagers can discover the exciting world of natural sciences and technology. “It is important to get kindergarden and school children excited about these topics. In times of a shortage of skilled workers, MINT education is of fundamental importance for society and the region,” emphasizes Riegel. With explorhino, the university has a unique selling proposition that should continue to be promoted as much as possible. "Actually, we are a university for life - from early childhood through university education, to our diverse range of further education opportunities. That's great!” exclaims the new President.
It is also of great concern to Riegel to support the industry in the corresponding transformation processes with regard to ongoing digitization. The university plays a very important role here with its application-oriented research and its corresponding transfer to the industry, according to Riegel, who in this context also refers to the research strength of the university and the campus as a "biotope for foundations and start-ups.” Riegel predicts, "a lot will happen there," and adds with a laugh: "My vision is, to put it bluntly, that people will come running at me with the question of where on this campus they can put a building for spin-offs."
As a passionate researcher who has raised around 6.5 million euros so far for research activities and has successfully established the Laser Application Center (LAZ) at Aalen University, it is important to him not to neglect basic research. “I am also very much looking forward to continue filling the new research buildings with life. We really have a great research infrastructure there,” says Riegel enthusiastically. In 2020, he was awarded Aalen University’s research prize for his great commitment.
One of the challenges in the new office will also be to continue guaranteeing the reliable and stable framework conditions for studying and teaching, despite the ongoing Corona crisis. “The switch to hybrid teaching went very well for us. This was also confirmed through the award given by Germany's largest study evaluation portal "StudyCheck". Nevertheless, we are, and will remain, an in-person university," emphasizes Riegel. "But we will continue to use the additional digital skills we have gained and the positive effects of hybrid teaching. Higher education in the digital age remains an exciting topic.”
The new President, who has lived and worked in the USA for several years, pays special attention to the further internationalization of the university. Already attending to his duties as vice-President, maintaining and developing international contacts was particularly important to Riegel. “I have dealt with this topic very thoroughly over the past seven years and established contacts worldwide. Such networks are fruitful and helpful in every aspect.”
Riegel is well prepared for his position as President of a university of applied sciences. After studying physics, he worked in the industry for 13 years, including at the measuring device manufacturer Endres+Hauser in Gerlingen and at the automotive supplier Mahle Behr GmbH & Co. KG in Stuttgart. At the same time, he took on teaching opportunities before applying for a professorship in physics at Aalen University in 2009. “Working with the students is incredibly enriching. To experience how mature personalities develop from adolescents, it’s just amazing!” says the father of three earnestly. “It gives me great pleasure to develop something further together with other people. Integrating all these talents in their diversity, finding new ones, promoting them and forming a sense of community for the benefit of the university and the East Württemberg region - that is the basis for everything," says the new President.