Alumnus of the Month

Alumnus of the Month is a section in which we draw attention to an alumnus with a special job or achievement. Do you have a suggestion for an Alumnus of the Month? Send us an email!

September 2019: Simone Zalla Aumaj
Simone Aumaj
Photo © Dieuwke van den Heuvel

Last month, Simone Zalla Aumaj (BA Liberal Arts and Sciences, 2018) won the ECHO Award in the category university education.

ECHO is a national expertise center for diversity policy in higher education. Aumaj won the prize for her work as a project manager of Work in Progress, a sustainable online and offline platform for students to discuss diversity and inclusion at Utrecht University through workshops and art. The jury praises her ability to bring different interests together for a collective goal of diversity and inclusion.

She is currently following the Maste's programme in Gender Studies at UU. With the ECHO Award she wins a fully catered summer course at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in the United States.

August 2019: Laureanne Willems
Laureanne Willems
Photo: Erik Kottier

During the Opening of the Academic Year, Laureanne Willems (MA Comparative Literary Studies, 2018) received the Student Award for the best Master's thesis 2018-2019.

In her graduation research she explored the variety of experiences with anorexia nervosa, based on three autobiographies. According to the jury, she convincingly demonstrates that literary testimonials are a necessary addition to a broader understanding, and therefore better treatment, of anorexia. They also praised Willems' smooth, balanced and engaging writing style, as well as her personal involvement with the subject.

The thesis, "What is Normal, What is Healthy? A Comparative Study of Anorexia Nervosa Through the Lens or Autobiographical Illness Narratives", is available to read online via the Utrecht University Repository.

July 2019: Aart Strootman
Aart Strootman
Photo © Dries Alkemade

Aart Strootman (MA Musicology, 2010) is a guitarist and composer. His composition Shambling Emerge - after after party was recently awarded the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize.

The jury describes the work as a "fascinating and surprising adventure." The Matthijs Vermeulen Prize is the most important Dutch composition prize and is awarded every two years by the Performing Arts Fund NL.

In addition to musicology, Strootman studied classical guitar and composition at the conservatory in Tilburg. He leads the ensembles F.C. Jongbloed and TEMKO and is a member of the international music collective s t a r g a z e. He also conducts PhD research at Leiden University.

The presentation of the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize will take place on 7 September in Utrecht, during the Saturday evening of the Gaudeamus Music Week. The work will be performed after the award ceremony.

June 2019: Gert van Vugt
Gert van Vugt
© Sustainer Homes

Gert van Vugt (UCU Liberal Arts and Sciences, 2012) is co-founder and CEO of Sustainer Homes, which focuses on sustainable and accessible architecture. Last month he was in the Duurzame Jonge 100, the annual list of the most sustainable young frontrunners in the Netherlands.

With his company he developed, among other things, tiny houses and a modular building system that can easily be used for all kinds of buildings. Last year, Van Vugt was in the Forbes 30 under 30 Europe list, an annual list with the most striking young entrepreneurs in Europe. In a video for Forbes, he tells more about the ideas behind Sustainer Homes.

May 2019: Emily Ansenk
Emily Ansenk
© Lenny Oosterwijk / Holland Festival

Emily Ansenk (Art History, 1995) was appointed new director of the Holland Festival last month. From 1 September she will take charge of the renowned performing arts festival in Amsterdam.

Ansenk is currently director of the Rotterdam Kunsthal. Previously she was director of the Frisia Museum. In addition to her work as a director, Ansenk is also a board member of the Job Dura Fund and of Rotterdam Economic Partners. She is also a member of the supervisory board of the National Maritime Museum Amsterdam. 

April 2019: Annelotte de Graaf (Amber Arcades)
Annelotte de Graaf / Amber Arcades
Annelotte de Graaf / Amber Arcades

Annelotte de Graaf (Bachelor of Law, 2011; LLM Legal Research, 2014) combines her legal job at the Immigration and Naturalisation Service with a career as a successful singer-songwriter. With her band Amber Arcades, she tours extensively at home and abroad.

Her second album 'European Heartbreak' was released last fall, a concept album about current problems in Europe. The record received four stars from The Guardian. In an interview with The Line of Best Fit, De Graaf talks about her new album.

March 2019: Marij Swinkels
Docenttalent 2019 Marij Swinkels.
Photo: Michiel Bies

During the last Dies Natalis, Marij Swinkels (BA Management and Organization Science, 2011; MA Management and Policy, 2012) received the prize for Teacher Talent of the Year.

The Teacher Talent of the Year prize is awarded annually as part of the Utrecht University Teacher Awards. According to the jury, Swinkels, who is also working on her PhD research, has "a natural empathy that she uses to get closer to the students, without emphasizing any form of hierarchy." In addition to her work as a teacher, she is also one of the founders of Incluusion, the programme that gives refugees access to education at the UU, for which she received a Silver Medal, also during the last Dies. Furthermore, Swinkels is one of the initiators of Oker, a platform for young researchers who want to reflect on the future of the university.

February 2019: Rutger Bregman
Rutger Bregman
Rutger Bregman during the UU Young Alumni Academy in 2018

Rutger Bregman (MA History, 2012) is a writer and journalist, among others at The Correspondent.

Last month he caused a stir with critical media appearances that went viral all over the world. During the World Economic Forum in Davos, he spoke fiercely against tax evasion to an audience of billionaires. This footage caught the attention of American politicians, and international media such as CBS, The Guardian and CNN.

Two weeks later, his - ultimately not aired - interview with the American television channel Fox News, following the performance in Davos, became news. When Bregman criticized Fox News, the interview derailed and the presenter called him names. The video of the conversation, later shared online by Bregman, was a worldwide trending topic.

January 2019: Sterre Hijlkema
Sterre Hijlkema
Photo © Ondernemersfonds Utrecht

Sterre Hijlkema (MSc Urban Geography, 2013) has a special job: she is the first neighbourhood concierge of Utrecht, in Utrecht-East.

In this position, which was set up by the Puur Oost business association and the Diakonessenhuis hospital, she is daily improving the quality of life in the neighbourhood. For example, she is concerned with the safety of the neighbourhood, she organizes consultations and sets up projects with various parties from the neighborhood. Want to know more? Sterre's Instagram account gives an insight in her daily work.