It is really amazing to see the things that students have done together
When you look at the amount of choice that students have at the Maastricht Science Programme to build their own curriculum, coupled with the advising and the academic resources, the potential is limitless. It is a bit daring to give that high degree of freedom to students. But the students here really make the most of it.
How I got to the MSP
I am a professor of paleontology and evolution. I am originally from the Maastricht area, although it has been a long time since I lived here. I started my university career in Utrecht where I studied geology. Then I went to Canada to do research on dinosaurs. After that, I went to Harvard University in the US where I continued my studies in paleontology and got a PhD in in biology. I then worked as a professor in the USA until the end of 2018.
When the MSP needed a new dean, the former dean contacted me because he thought I would be a good fit here. I was happy where I was, but the MSP is such a wonderful programme so, just like many of the students, it was an opportunity that could not be passed up. And here I am, the new dean as of 1 January, back in Maastricht after 23 years in North America.
The MSP is tremendously dynamic. When I left the Netherlands, there was not a single Liberal Arts programme in the country. It is impressive to come back to a programme like the MSP. When you look at the amount of choice that students have at the MSP to build their own curriculum, coupled with the advising and the academic resources, the potential is limitless. It is a bit daring to give that high degree of freedom to students. But the students here really make the most of it. And the staff are also incredibly committed. They really go out of their way to encourage, occasionally push, or do whatever else might be needed to make each student succeed.
With the cooperative atmosphere and the small-scale classes, it is hard to be anonymous at the MSP. Our students—highly motivated students from many different countries—contribute fully. There are so many spontaneous initiatives that take place here, especially during the project periods. It is really amazing to see the things that students have done together, things that they have come up with themselves. You encounter this really positive ‘hustle and bustle’ when you come to the MSP. The high level of engagement that the students—and also the staff—have, makes the MSP incredibly special.
I have encountered smart students everywhere. MSP students typically stand out because of their independence. They often have strong goals and ideals, and articulate and pursue them with a passion. The level of informal conversations that the staff have with students is much more dynamic and easy going than in the US. It is enjoyable to have a little bit of push back and a lot of initiative coming from students.
Taking stock and listening
Now is a really interesting time for the MSP. The programme is highly successful and has been growing steadily. It is a fantastic moment to take stock. I think one of the best ways to do that is by finding out as much as I can, from every different perspective. It has been great talking to our diverse group of students. They have invaluable insights into which aspects of the programme are working well, things we might be missing, and what can be improved. Together with students and staff, we brainstorm about the possibilities for the future. We are a very dynamic program. One of my major goals is to help facilitate the changes that are desired by the MSP community as a whole, to optimise the MSP experience for everyone. I do not have all of the answers. Collectively, staff and students have a wealth of insights, and that is why it is essential to work on it together. One thing I know for sure is that we will be throwing some great paleontology classes into the mix now that I am here.