First graduates University College Venlo
On the 6th of July Mirte van den Boogaard and Augustin Poncelet are among the first graduates of the bachelor’s programme at University College Venlo (UCV), which kicked off three years ago. They look back on a memorable experience, a pioneering period in a small community where everyone knew one another. And where students are given the freedom to compile their own curriculum.
“We’re going to have a problem in the future”, Van den Boogaard says mock-threateningly to Poncelet at the end of the interview. The penny had dropped while talking about their future plans: if he was going to launch a new beer brand, and her path lay in discouraging people from drinking, they might come to butt heads. Both see the funny side. “That’s what’s so great about UCV”, Van den Boogaard says. “Students aren’t stuck in the same thought patterns.”
The pair will be among the first batch of bachelor’s graduates from UCV. They look back on a unique, pioneering time, with a single downside; something almost unavoidable with a new faculty. Van den Boogaard: “It’s not that I felt like a guinea pig, but sometimes you had to wait a long time for things to be arranged.” Everything else they see in a positive light. The pair are almost lyrical about the freedom to shape their own education; the open curriculum was what brought them to Venlo in the first place.
UCV was launched at Maastricht University’s satellite campus in Venlo in September 2015. Venlo is one of the major food and logistics hubs of the Netherlands, giving students first-hand professional experience and the skills employers are looking for.
Students select their own courses based on their own interests, enabling them to study issues related to food, nutrition and health in an interdisciplinary manner.
In last year’s Elsevier ranking, based on the National Student Survey, UCV was ranked the best university college in the Netherlands.
Mirte van den Boogaard and Augustin Poncelet
Mini beer brewery
“For someone like me, an open curriculum is ideal”, Van den Boogaard says. “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted and was able to gradually develop my interests. Now I’m doing Psychology, Business and Health, and I’m finding Neuroscience very interesting.” This freedom of choice is also motivating: “You’re happy to go to those lectures, more so than the compulsory courses – which we have here too, by the way.”
Poncelet, too, consciously chose Venlo for the freedom. “I hate compulsory courses if I don’t think I need them.” He laughs. “The first thing I got here were the lectures I’d failed in Belgium. But because I now had a goal, they were no longer a problem.” For his graduation project, Poncelet is developing a business model for his own mini brewery. That’s the theoretical side covered. He also brews beer, but just for the fun of it. “To be honest I still consume more than I can produce.”
Van den Boogaard describes the atmosphere at UCV as warm, open and helpful. “The staff are always ready to help you, very caring. Knowing one another personally makes studying together that much nicer.” Poncelet: “It has the atmosphere of a startup. Your problem is the same problem others are facing.”
For both, a particular highlight was studying abroad. Van den Boogaard went to New Zealand, keen to build a new life in another world, if only briefly. Poncelet spent a semester in Hong Kong. “I was able to study international entrepreneurship there.”
“We formed a close-knit community from the very first year,” Poncelet says. Van den Boogaard: “You were on an equal footing with the lecturers, ate lunch and had breaks in the same room.” Did this mean they weren’t strict enough? “That wasn’t necessary, because the students were generally very motivated.”
Each year a new cohort arrived, which felt strange to the older students. “It felt like they were invading our territory”, Poncelet laughs. Van den Boogaard: “When I got back from New Zealand I thought, my God, what’s happened to my little campus? There were all these faces I didn’t recognise; it was like a whole new world.”
Mirte van den Boogaard (1997) studied Liberal Arts and Sciences at University College Venlo. She is conducting consumer research in Blerick, Venlo, for her bachelor’s thesis entitled ‘Developing recommendations to health promotors for organizing an intervention for people with a lower SES (Self-Esteem Scale)’.
And Venlo? It can hardly be described as a student city, but that has its advantages. “You don’t have the restlessness of a big city”, Van den Boogaard says. “Entertainment doesn’t automatically come to you, you have to create it yourself. In our first year students were throwing house parties every week.” Poncelet: “I much prefer going to a bar where the staff know you and pour you a glass of your favourite beer. That’s a scenario I love.”
For her graduation project, Van den Boogaard is doing a consumer survey with the aim of promoting a healthier lifestyle among people with low economic status. She has a clear idea of where she wants to go from here: first a master’s in Health, Education and Promotion at Maastricht University, then a master’s in Global Heath or Neuropsychology. After that, who knows – perhaps a PhD abroad. “I’m not done yet”, she says firmly.
Poncelet is happy to see what comes his way. Perhaps he’ll first work with startups, to get a feel for it. He also wants to teach others how to make beer at home, in their own cellar or kitchen. And together with his brother he will continue with his beer brand BBB – Belgium Brothers Brewery.
Both are adamant that studying at UCV gives you a unique CV, which in turn makes you stand out on the labour market. Van den Boogaard: “We’ve had a more open-minded education and learnt to view problems from multiple perspectives.”
Augustin Poncelet (1996) studied Entrepreneurial and Small Business Operations at University College Venlo. His bachelor’s thesis focuses on business models for micro-breweries. He is a brewer himself and is developing his own beer brand.