Sustainable, diverse and digital changes during Alumni Week

19 Apr 2021 14:58 | Communication

Last week, AUAS alumni (and staff and students) got a chance to soak up some knowledge and inspiration in a wide array of online workshops put on as part of Alumni Week.

The week kicked off with a live broadcast from Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam-Zuidoost. This saw rector Geleyn Meijer and co-host Altan Erdogan talk to a variety of current or former AUAS staff members about the changing world and how the AUAS is making a difference in terms of sustainability, diversity and digitalisation.

'Fortunately, the AUAS had already been reflecting on the matter of how we could redesign our education prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Sustainability, diversity and digitalisation are at the heart of the vision we've developed', says rector Geleyn Meijer. This set the tone for the kick-off. Over the course of the next hour, these themes were coloured in by AUAS staff, alumni and children from Regenboog primary school in Amsterdam-Zuidoost, who used video messages to ask the studio guests questions about the future. Please read on for a recap of the events.


'The AUAS has very deliberately expressed its concern about the climate', begins Geleyn Meijer. 'As an institution, we're involved in society. We're eager to assist the progress of the students we educate, and ultimately, all our alumni too. Which means there's no getting around this issue. We want to raise awareness as well as effect positive societal change in conjunction with the city of Amsterdam. Consider in this regard getting retail chains to think about how they can serve their customers more sustainably, helping hospitals to deal with plastic waste better and, together with the local authority, looking at how we can make the city greener.'

The progress of sustainable development is still insufficient, however. 'We're increasingly aware that the climate issue is turning into a disaster, one that scientists are constantly warning us about, but we're also seeing that people find it difficult to change their behaviour. We'll read about, reflect on it, but we're not yet doing enough in terms of switching to different means of transport, changing our eating habits or adapting our homes.' Which is a bad thing according to Reint Jan Renes, Lecturer in Psychology for a Sustainable City at the AUAS. Over the course of a 20-minute speech, he illustrated the complicated psychological constitutions preventing us from changing our behaviour and argued why individuals really ought to be the drivers of change. 'We lament the situation in Antarctica, and yet there are still plenty of people who haven't switched to LED lights. Despite the fact that 84% of our total CO2 emissions are down to our personal choices.'

What role should the government play in the climate issue? What is the importance of ownership? And to what extent does money play a role in the choices we make? Just a few of the questions that viewers at home put to Reint Jan through the chat. 'What I struggle to understand is that governments are forever fixating on money. Costs need to be minimised, things need to be hassle-free, not too much fuss. I sometimes compare it to the idea of Heineken trying to sell a 0.0% beer by belabouring the point that it contains no alcohol and doesn't taste as good as real beer. Who on earth would rush out to buy that? As a government, you've got to show how extremely worthwhile the transition is. Authorities still often trivialise the climate problem. A couple of years ago, for example, Prime Minister Mark Rutte made that notorious statement about not going overboard when it comes to the climate, arguing that we should all still be able to have a barbecue. That doesn't help. The government needs to make the urgency of the problem palpable for citizens. Only then will we wake up to the fact that anything worthwhile comes with a cost.'

Meanwhile, AUAS alum Puck Middelkoop had joined the table. She completed her studies in commercial economics in 2008. Today, she is a start-up coach at the AUAS and owner of the company she founded, Hulaaloop. 'When I became a mother, I found out that children go through eight different sizes of clothing in the first couple of years. And that the fashion industry is one of the worst polluters. That's why I came up with a subscription system where parents of young children can rent clothes. As soon as your child outgrows a size, you can change items season by season. When I started the company four years ago, I was constantly having to explain the concept. Now I'm noticing that the sharing economy is gaining momentum and people are quicker to understand my initiative.'


We know from the AUAS that the student population is traditionally very diverse. According to co-host Altan, however, there is still something to be gained on the employee side when it comes to diversity. Geleyn: 'It's good to work with people from different backgrounds and with different opinions in education and research. These are role models that you're installing. They should properly reflect of the world around us. One of the ways we're achieving this is through a trainee programme. This entails us helping students to enter the teaching profession once they've graduated, Including a job offer from AUAS.'

Two AUAS alumni in attendance were enthusiastic about the developments. Puck: 'Obviously I graduated quite some time ago, but now that I'm back here as a start-up coach I'm seeing a great deal more diversity than I saw during my studies, including among the staff.' Carline van Breugel (also an AUAS alum in commercial economics and currently working in the House of Representatives of the Netherlands [ed. for political party D66] on the theme of diversity and inclusion): 'I was a first-generation student at the time and therefore had a very hard time of it during my first year. I barely passed. I'm delighted to see that there's now a programme that helps students who are not in a position to ask their families for help. And I'm so glad to see that this meeting is subtitled!'

A third AUAS alum in commercial economics has been made Amsterdam's city poet. As the icing on the cake, Gershwin Bonevacia shared a few poetic words on the beautiful melting pot that is our city.


The meeting culminated in a reflection on the topic of digitalisation, given by AUAS's digital transformation officer Ivo van der Werk and AUAS alum Samira Mellenbergh (currently working at Microsoft). They showed how the transition that got under way last year is irreversible. Ivo: 'We've seen that we can enrich our education with digital tools. At the same time, we recognise the added value of face-to-face teaching. We now have an opportunity to look for a new, ideal mix.' This promptly addressed a concern expressed by one of the primary school pupils. Is it healthy for us to be sitting at our screens so much these days? Shouldn't we just go outside more? Samira, too, emphasised that although we are now seeing increased productivity thanks to software such as Teams, the social aspect is one that can never be replaced.

Geleyn Meijer shared the view that these changes are not absolute. 'We were already talking about big data and AI 60 years ago, but the changes are slower than we could envisage back then. I think the whole idea of transformation is largely about what people do and don't want. And it starts with understanding what exactly this change entails. It's one of our essential roles as a university of applied science to help staff, students and alumni understand what all this means. Giving them a helpful push in the right direction with our up-to-date knowledge and new insights, so that they can set to work. Because sustainable, practical solutions and views will be sustainable, diverse, digital and essential in tomorrow's society.'

And this brought us back to the words of behavioural scientist Reint Jan Renes: 'Without dialogue on the topic citywide or nationwide, you know there's no change afoot yet. No pain, no gain. A bit of friction shows that change is under way. And that's exactly what we need.'

Keen to find out more about what the AUAS offers alumni?

Keen to find out more about Alumni Week? Want to watch the workshops again? Go to