Community building through education

The InSciTe Education & Training Program prepares talented researchers for a successful career as a professional in the biomedical or biobased sector. To date, no fewer than 840 people have completed a training course. Some of the training courses were developed in close cooperation with Maastricht University, as one of the Founding Fathers of InSciTe, and in particular with the Faculty of Science and Engineering.

Yvonne van der Meer is a professor and scientific co-director of the Aachen-Maastricht Institute for Biobased Materials (AMIBM). She organizes on behalf of and is a tutor on the InSciTe Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) module. What does she think is the added value of the education program? Yvonne: 'Thanks to InSciTe’s programs, students have been able to learn about issues that you don’t normally encounter on academic degree programs. For example, topics such as Intellectual Property and LCA are very popular, but students don’t always have the opportunity to follow such a training program at university. I’ve found that students really appreciate the InSciTe program and get a lot out of it.'

New connections

Yvonne is also impressed by the fact that InSciTe has added education as a priority to a research program. 'I’m really happy about that, because it generates new connections. Thanks to InSciTe, I have been able to meet companies that I wouldn’t normally know about. I have been able to incorporate cases from these companies into our education programme. I also have a better idea of what companies need from an LCA training course. The interaction with companies also encourages us, as a university, to think more about how we can move from a scientific discovery to an application in a company. And the fact that InSciTe focuses on various target groups inspired me to make the subjects we teach at Maastricht University more widely accessible. So, yes, InSciTe’s education programme certainly contributes to community building; you meet and learn from each other.'

Unique coalition

Thomas Cleij, dean at the Faculty of Science and Engineering and InSciTe board member, adds: 'The InSciTe model, in which education is an integral element, seems to work very well. A unique coalition that combines research and knowledge, like ours, enables us to do more together. The great thing is that the development of InSciTe ran parallel to the development of our faculty. Some of our researchers played pivotal roles at InSciTe and we have developed programs in which these researchers teach our undergraduate students. It’s an interactive collaboration. InSciTe was a key driver in developing our university’s STEM* ambitions, especially in the early years. The number of students at our faculty has doubled in the past five years to 2,500. This is partly because of InSciTe.'

Future

What does the future hold, after InSciTe? Yvonne: 'We definitely want to keep the LCA module, given the growing interest in sustainability. We have also spent three years perfecting the online format, so we definitely want to continue doing that. At the moment we are asking our current participants how they would feel if they had to pay a small fee. We are thinking about offering it commercially, whilst making sure that it stays accessible.'

Thomas: 'In the board we talk a lot about how we are going to move forward, but I think we need to have a deeper conversation about the future of the education part. It’s important that we maintain the synergy between the Founding Fathers; between our university and InSciTe, but also with the other partners. For example, our faculty has also benefited greatly from the cooperation with TU/e. As a young player, we wanted to establish a presence in the landscape of Dutch science and technology. Our cooperation with TU/e played a pivotal role in our launch and will ensure our continued success. The board also has to think about the future of the education program and preserve what we have achieved together.'

*In Dutch this is known as ‘bèta’

Thomas Cleij

Thomas Cleij is the founder and Dean of the new Faculty of Science and Engineering at Maastricht University. Thomas obtained his PhD in 1999 at Utrecht University in polymeric materials science. After working for a Utrecht University spin-off company, in 2000 he was appointed as assistant professor at Louisiana State University (United States) followed by associate and full professor at Hasselt University (Belgium). In the spring of 2009, he became involved with the efforts to start natural science education at Maastricht University. This resulted in the Maastricht Science Programme, which he started in 2011. Since 2012, he has been appointed at Maastricht University as a Full Professor. From 2018 he is the founder and Dean of the new Faculty of Science and Engineering at Maastricht University, which has in 2021 already about 2500 students.

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Yvonne van der Meer

Yvonne van der Meer is professor holding the Chair Sustainability of chemicals and materials at the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Maastricht. As of 2020 she is scientific co-director of the Aachen-Maastricht Institute for Biobased Materials. She is also a member of the scientific committee of the European Biobased Industries Joint Undertaking and a member of the Educational Program Committee of the Master Biobased Materials. Since 2021 she is Project Owner Sustainable Research of the Taskforce Sustainable UM2030.

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