2022 Student Award nominees announced

Utrecht University is proud of its students who achieve something remarkable, either as part of their studies or elsewhere in their lives. Each year during the opening of the academic year, the Vice President of the Executive Board therefore presents two Student Awards: the Student Award for the Best Master’s Thesis and the Student Award ‘Exceptional Extracurricular Achievements 2021’. The names of the students who have been nominated for these prizes have now been announced.

All nominees

The nominees for the Best Master’s Thesis are: Niels Drost, Charia Lacroix en Sophie ten Hietbrink. The nominees for the Student Award ‘Exceptional Extracurricular Achievements 2022 are: Renate Bosman, Kimia Milani Sabzewar en ‘Stichting GELIJKSPEL’ (bestaande uit Marloes Lucas Luyckx, Lotte Toet, Giulia Hietink en Isa Steijn). 

Nominees for the Best Master’s Thesis 2022

Niels Drost

  • Thesis title: Tsar-struck: How Vladimir Putin uses the history of the Russian Empire

Niels began his thesis, in 2021, it was not yet clear how urgent it would be. But Niels already realised that the way Russian President Vladimir Putin uses the history of the Russian Empire to substantiate, legitimise and realise his power aspirations had never been thoroughly investigated, while this is a very relevant part of Putin's exercise of power. Both in his own country and abroad. With his thesis, Niels has therefore filled a gap in historiography by mapping the 'use and abuse of history' in the hands of the Kremlin, a truly underexposed phenomenon in the literature. In doing so, he also connects with recent trends that emphasise that Russia must be seen as an empire in decline, struggling with the traumas of history but wanting to preserve its 'empire' at all costs - as one of Russia's most eminent experts, Prof. Martin Austs, recently pointed out in his research.

Niels only goes one step further than to name that insight. Niels has chosen a very innovative research method, something we could call historiography 2.0, or a combination of big data & applied history. Using a code he wrote himself (page 107 in thesis) for data-scraping, he was able to extract all statements Putin ever made from the Kremlin website and convert them into individual text files. Using special data-analysis software and a self-made list of keywords, the student was able to select these for relevance. This gives Niels' research not only an essayistic value, but also such a strong empirical basis that it would already lay a good foundation for a PhD research. For with this methodology, Niels was able to use more than 20,000 speeches and other sources between December 1999 and December 2021 as a starting point. In the end, he subjected more than 500 of these expressions about the Russian Empire to a qualitative analysis as a basis for the thesis.

Chiara Lacroix

  • Thesis title: Birth of the Human Being: Historicising the Concept of Human in the Study of Reproduction

Chiara has written an interesting thesis on what it means to be human. In a study of human survival, she examined the reproductive system, among other things, and found a deeper awareness of how people experience being human, what it entails, encompasses and produces.

She found in her texts that "man" was only used in the 19th century, before that "man" was common. Also that "man" does not include all of humanity but refers mainly to the white man.

Chiara is a very intelligent student, who took a little longer to complete her studies because of the pandemic.

Sophie ten Hietbrink

  • Thesis title: Nanoplastic distribution in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre

Sophie went on a mission to do hands-on research on nanoplastics on a ship in the North Atlantic. There she suggested several improvements to the workflow, and with the samples in hand, she single-handedly found a work-around for the freshwater installation in the lab, in order to still get results for saltwater.

She is in the process of converting her thesis results into a publication.

Nominees Award Exceptional Extracurricular Achievements 2022

Renate Bosman

  • Bachelor student Interdisciplinary Social Sciences
  • Reason: Renate's commitment to inclusiveness

Renate has autism and dyslexia and therefore knows that studying is not the same for everyone. This is why she started working for more inclusive education as a buddy, then buddy coordinator and now general coordinator of the Platform Unlimited Studying. Also in her bachelor thesis Renate is working on inclusiveness. She is doing research on inclusive language use among adults with autism and from this she wants to look with the EDI Office within the university how the current policy can connect better to autistic students. Since April this year, she has also been committed to a socially safe environment within the university as a member of the Interpersonal Integrity Committee.

Kimia Milani Sabzewar

  • Master student Medicine
  • Reason: The establishment of the Abadi Foundation (in 2021) and her volunteer work at CODING

Abadi Foundation is a foundation to support Afghan refugees. They organise activities for children in AZCs and shelters to help them in the process of language acquisition, trauma processing, leisure activities and development. Kimia does this by recruiting donors and volunteers, managing the instagram page and e-mail to inform donors of what the money is being spent on. She also maintains contact with other organisations that would like to collaborate. This year, she established the foundation by making statutes, writing a policy plan and obtaining ANBI status. At the moment, she is the secretary of the foundation.

Kimia is also active in CODING. The Collective for Diversity and Inclusion in Dutch Medicine is a network of (future) healthcare professionals who are committed to a sensitive and inclusive healthcare system, with the aim of creating an open culture. Kimia has joined this network and helps with the policy working group.

In addition to her internship, she also worked as a triage operator during the coronary crisis last year to help with the staff shortage.


  • Stichting GELIJKSPEL is a foundation consisting of Marloes Lucas Luyckx, Lotte Toet, Giulia Hietink and Isa Steijn of multiple faculties.
  • Reason: the start of the foundation.

The establishment of the GELIJKSPEL Foundation. GELIJKSPEL was founded four years ago by this foursome to improve the sexual culture of students. They started by talking to different student associations, institutions for sexual well-being and educational institutions. It took a while before student associations wanted to do something with it, but this eventually led to a campaign. They provided input for the development of the Consent Matter module and brainstormed on how the University could contribute to the sexual well-being of students.

In addition, GELIJKSPEL supported Rutgers and the Centre for Sexual Violence in their campaigns and policy strategies and provided them with a student perspective. Isa, Giulia, Marloes and Lotte also developed an education, in which they rewrote the norms of sex. In the end, the ladies decided that this information should be the organisation's basic product. These information sessions are given to student associations in different cities.

This academic year, GELIJKSPEL has grown into a large organisation of four student ambassador teams (of 4-7 persons) in various cities (Amsterdam/Rotterdam/Leiden and Utrecht), a social media specialist, a Think Tank (4 persons) and a student developing a podcast.


Directors of Education or research directors can nominate a student in their programme for the Student Award for the Best Master’s Thesis. The student must satisfy the set criteria. Anyone, regardless of their relationship to Utrecht University, may nominate a student for the Student Award ‘Exceptional Extracurricular Achievement.


The winners will be announced during the Start of the Academic Year ceremony in the Dom Church on Monday 5 September 2022.